Virginia Lawmaker Wants To Tap Into Maryland Market With Fairfax Co. Casino

Written By T.J. McBride on January 8, 2024 - Last Updated on January 12, 2024
Photo of a beer tap with Virginia and Maryland logos on a story about a VA legislator wanting to tap MD market for a Fairfax County casino.

An incoming Virginia Senate majority leader is frustrated that Maryland is able to accumulate funds to put toward education through casinos that Virginians are visiting.

One way to rectify that issue is to add a casino in Fairfax County. That would combat Maryland casinos taking bets near Virginia’s border. In the eyes of some lawmakers, giving residents a Virginia casino option would sway many bettors to stay local instead of traveling to Maryland.

Virginia state Sen. David Marsden is already planning to re-introduce legislation that would allow Fairfax County voters to decide if they want the casino via a voter referendum. That is a scary proposition considering Richmond voters shot down casino bills for their city twice. But Marsden has plans to build more than just a casino.

Lawmaker thinks a casino complex would keep bettors in Virginia

There are just three casinos in the commonwealth, and Virginia online casinos are still illegal. Despite the limited options and the young Virginia casino market, operators are thriving. In November, the three casinos combined to generate $51.2 million of revenue. That led to nearly $10.5 million in tax contributions.

Those figures could grow by quite a bit if another casino was opened, with less Virginians crossing into Maryland to play at its casinos. That is an equation that makes sense to Virginia Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, who told The Virginian-Pilot he supports adding a casino in Fairfax County to stem the flow of Virginia dollars to Maryland.

Marsden has also revised his original bill to try and appeal to more than just gamblers. In addition to a casino, he wants to add a concert hall, convention center and hotel, among other amenities.

While several areas in the county, from Tysons Corner to Reston, have been discussed as a possible location to build this new complex, the bill is not tied to any one location. The only stipulation is to put the entertainment complex near one of the Silver Line Metro stations, which includes Tysons Corner and Reston. Outside of that, the county can choose for itself.

Marsden favors Tysons Corner area for casino complex

Marsden has indicated he seems to prefer putting the complex in Tysons Corner, which needs an injection of jobs, tourism and revenue.

“Our commercial real estate market here locally is deteriorating rapidly. These are all 10-year leases on these buildings that people who rent space that they have and people who had 50,000 square feet now want 10,000. People who had 10,000 now don’t want any. Revenue in the county is deteriorating, and I’m worried that Tysons Corner will become a ghost town because people are working from home.”

The project would create more union jobs and bring more traffic to Dulles Airport, Marsden said.

“The Silver Line was created for high density development and business owners paid a tax to build the Dulles Access Road and the Silver Line. They paid to have that done, and if we can put in a conference center in an entertainment district, anchored by a casino and some hotels, it creates a tremendous number of construction jobs, good union jobs, to work in those hotels.”

Voters would make final decision on Fairfax County casino

According to a study commissioned in 2019 by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, a casino in Northern Virginia could accumulate as much as $155 million in tax dollars for the state annually.

Surovell said he is aware the General Assembly is not in agreement when it comes to gaming. But he said lawmakers usually agree in allowing localities to make decisions on their own. The proposition of getting a bill on the November ballot to add a Fairfax County casino is not preposterous.

But the hard work only starts there, as Richmond casino proponents have learned the hard way.

Regardless of what plans do or do not make it through the legislative process, that is only the first major step. If the bill makes it through the Virginia General Assembly, it will then appear on the ballot for Fairfax County voters to decide its fate.

Last year, over 60% of voters rejected adding a casino in Richmond. There were 39,768 votes against the proposal and just 24,765 votes in favor of it. That loss represented the second time Richmond voters had shot down the potential of adding a casino.

There will be plenty of opposition fighting back against a Fairfax County casino

As with Richmond, there is vocal opposition to building a casino in Fairfax County.

Some local leaders in Reston and Tysons Corner are already speaking out against the addition of a casino.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who led a Q&A about a Fairfax County casino, has said he is against the proposal.

“I oppose putting a casino on the Silver Line and (Dulles corridor developer) Comstock should be aware of my position on that. It has not changed since I first became aware of casino interest in the Dulles corridor late last year. The land around these stations is already valuable for so many other socially beneficial uses, and plopping a casino into these emerging transit-oriented development communities during their formative years is a bad idea.”

Lynne Mulston, president of the Reston Citizens Association, told Patch that city leaders will fight against a casino being built in the area.

“Reston is a planned community. An entertainment district with a casino is not in line with the community’s vision for the future of Reston. Over the past three years, 30 members of our community, including representatives from developers, worked with county staff, interest groups and the public to craft a Comprehensive Plan for the next decade of Reston’s growth. In the community’s plan that was approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the Wiehle Metro Station area is envisioned to be an urban neighborhood with encouragement for higher education, research and development, and tech uses. A casino would drastically change the vision for Reston. Reston Citizens Association stands with Supervisor Alcorn in opposition to a casino in Reston.”

Patch did its own survey of 917 local voters on how they currently feel about the addition of a casino on the Silver Line. Eighty-nine percent were opposed. More than 70% of respondents said they were against a casino being built anywhere in Fairfax County.

Photo by Shutterstock / Illustration by PlayVirginia
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T.J. McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver. He is a Nuggets beat writer and also covers the regulated gambling industry across the U.S. His byline can be seen at ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report and more.

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