Petersburg Casino Proposal Gains Momentum

Written By T.J. McBride on January 17, 2024
Map of Petersburg on a story about the push for the city to have a referendum on a new casino.

Some Virginia lawmakers think the chances of adding a casino in Petersburg via voter referendum could be better this year compared to last.

There are several reasons to believe a Petersburg casino bill could land on the 2024 ballot in November. Richmond’s recent rejection of building a casino in the capital city, along with new leadership in the Virginia General Assembly, may have opened the door for proponents of a Petersburg casino.

Optimism is high that lawmakers will give Petersburg residents a chance to vote on the proposal this year.

Second failed vote in Richmond could open door for Petersburg

There are currently three casinos operating in Virginia: Hard Rock Bristol, Rivers Casino Portsmouth and Caesars Virginia Danville. A fourth casino, in Norfolk, is slowly moving toward final approval. Virginia online casinos remain illegal.

The idea of building a casino in Petersburg has been explored before. A study on the viability of Petersburg as a host community for a casino was favorable. But only if a casino was not built in Richmond, which is less than 30 minutes north of Petersburg. After Richmond voters rejected a proposal to build a casino there in 2021, Petersburg’s odds increased.

Then, politics got in the way. Within hours of the failed vote in Richmond, former state Sen. Joe Morrissey aggressively pushed to get a casino in Petersburg. That rankled lawmakers in both parties.

According to state Del. Kim Taylor in an interview with The Progress-Index, that full-speed-ahead approach rubbed lawmakers the wrong way and also created grudges which impeded progress.

“I think it was really unfortunate that personal grudges got in the way of that being successful and the people of Petersburg having a referendum. That was quite a bit of it. I don’t think personal grudges should get in the way of that kind of progress.”

Now that Richmond voters have once again rejected a casino proposal, proponents of a Petersburg casino are optimistic.

Landscape has changed at the Virginia General Assembly

With Morrissey out of the picture, Taylor feels the opportunity to create relationships across party lines exists.

“We’re in a totally different climate. The Republicans are now the minority, but carrying the casino referendum legislation last session, I really had a chance to get to know the delegates and different lobbyists. We’re going to continue to build on that. Then, of course, we got a lot of new people. There’s going to be building new relationships.”

In the last couple legislative sessions, a Petersburg casino bill has gotten as far as the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. No proposals have been introduced in the House.

Things could be different this year. Legislation for 2024 has already been officially submitted, with strong backing. Two powerhouses in the Virginia General Assembly are sponsoring the measure. The first is state Sen. Lashrecse Aird, who defeated Morrissey last June and previously opposed Petersburg casino legislation. The second is state Sen. Louis Lucas, who is the new chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.

Push underway to build a casino in Fairfax County

After Richmond casino proponents suffered their second defeat, other localities in Virginia began exploring the possibility of becoming the fifth Virginia area with a casino.

Virginia state Sen. David Marsden has been leading the charge to build a casino in Fairfax County. Opposition against the proposal is fierce, however. Several county leaders have publicly voiced concerns with the proposition.

Still, Marsden believes the area desperately needs the economic boost a casino would bring.

“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.”

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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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