There’s a high-stakes game underway for new Virginia casinos along the Eastern Seaboard.
Richmond could eventually hold the high card. Nearby Petersburg could too.
But there’s a lot to keep track of. The Virginia General Assembly might be shuffling a marked deck. Plus, voters in either city could just call the whole game off.
How politics may decide a new Virginia casino city
It all comes down to how many political favors state Sen. Joe Morrissey can call in.
- The influential Democrat pushed for a Richmond casino back when the state preapproved casinos for certain sites.
- The state would allow cities with certain economic factors to add casinos — as long as voters in those cities approved gambling too.
Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth all gave the mega-businesses 2-to-1 support in November 2020. As a result, casino developers are turning dirt and holding job fairs in each city.
That didn’t happen for Richmond in 2021. The ground is cold there for now.
New Virginia casino study asks: Why not both?
A 77-page report to Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission makes room for the possibility of casinos for both neighboring cities.
Innovation Group of New Orleans prepared the report. The firm walked commission members through the following scenarios.
- No casino for Richmond or Petersburg — net gaming revenue would create $828 million by the end of the 2028 budget year. By then, markets in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth also would be set.
- A casino for Petersburg only would increase Virginia’s 2028 net gaming revenue by 18% compared to no new casinos. The $977 million gain assumes the Live! Casino opens in 2027.
- Richmond has a better argument in terms of gaming revenue. A One Casino (or new partner) would grow net gaming revenue by about 29% — to about $1.1 billion — for the state.
- Casinos for both cities give the state its largest boost. The twin casinos plan would grow casino revenue by 36% for a $1.13 billion gain.
Richmond missed its first shot
A $565 million Urban One Resort + Casino proposal fell just short of the majority it needed for construction to begin in Richmond.
That “no” vote in 2021 matters to Morrissey. He just saw his senate boundaries change based on 2020 census numbers.
As Morrissey’s senate district moved, so did his support for a new Virginia casino in Richmond. He now needs voters in Petersburg to send him back to office instead.
In fact, Michael Martz of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Morrissey has already filed a bill to stall plans in the capital city. It would make Petersburg — not Richmond — the state’s fifth casino-eligible site.
That’s bad news for the city of Richmond, which had an agreement with Urban One. The largest Black-owned media company in the country wanted to add a casino to its portfolio.
One Resort + Casino backers actually wanted to get a Richmond vote right back on this fall’s 2022 ballot. But, Morrissey used his clout to clear a path for Petersburg. In fact, he floated a couple of amendments to the Virginia budget.
- The first attempt — adding Petersburg to the state’s list of approved casino cities — didn’t work.
- But Morrissey did get a second amendment through. It allows the state to block a 2022 Richmond vote while the state conducts a study for Petersburg.
Since then, the city of Richmond’s agreement with Urban One has expired. They could circle back with a new partnership.
Richmond plans to put a casino vote on the 2023 ballot. But, again, it would have to survive Morrisssey’s interference.
Live! Casino & Hotel might come to Petersburg
Martz from the Times-Dispatch has done a great job tracking the casino developments. He notes Cordish Companies was a finalist for the Richmond project before the city awarded Urban One the project.
Now, as of Tuesday night (Oct. 18) Cordish is in line to land the Petersburg casino project instead. The Petersburg City Council approved plans to explore a partnership with the Live! Casino group.
Cordish and the city haven’t announced the scale or location of the Petersburg project. That will change Tuesday, Oct. 25, however.
Residents will learn more about the project at a 4 p.m. meeting at the Petersburg Public Library.