Petersburg Clears Final Legislative Hurdle To Set Up November Vote

Written By Phil West on April 23, 2024
Vote sign signifies Petersburg voters approved to vote on casino expansion in November

Thanks to action by the Virginia General Assembly, Petersburg residents will soon get to decide whether they want to bring a casino to their city.

Both the Senate and the House approved an amendment to a bill from Gov. Glenn Youngkin – by sizable majorities – allowing for Petersburg residents to vote on casino approval this November. That speeds the timeline from an earlier version of the bill that would have required a second General Assembly vote in 2025.

As the Progress-Index reported:

“According to Section 6 of the Virginia Constitution, if both chambers agree to the recommended amendments, it becomes law without having to go back to the governor’s desk.”

Will Richmond’s loss be Petersburg’s gain?

Lawmakers approved five locations for casinos in Virginia in 2020: Bristol, DanvilleNorfolkPortsmouth and Richmond. Residents in the first four voted to bring casinos to their cities while Richmond voters twice rejected building a casino in Virginia’s capital. That opened the door for Petersburg, which is just 30 miles from Richmond. Virginia online casinos remain illegal.

The Progress-Index story said as much, noting that the legislative action validates Petersburg’s “three-year push to land a referendum that began after voters in original pick Richmond turned down the casino issue on the 2021 ballot. A prolonged political fight then ensued between Petersburg and Richmond after the latter began asking for a do-over on the referendum.”

Two years later, Richmond voters again rejected the opportunity to host a casino with a resounding 62% voting against the proposal. Earlier this month, the state’s legislators made Richmond’s removal from consideration official.

Promise made, promise delivered

State Sen. Lashrecse Aird, who sponsored legislation paving the way for Petersburg residents to vote, applauded the decision by lawmakers.

“After two previous failed attempts, in my first Senate session, the General Assembly has officially given its support to allow the citizens of Petersburg to have a referendum vote on a casino. I made a promise to give my community this opportunity, and today I delivered on that promise. While voters will have the final say on whether a casino becomes a reality, this legislation has the potential for multimillion-dollar economic investment to be made in a community that both needs and truly deserves it.”

Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham echoed Aird’s statement.

“This opportunity has the potential to be a game-changer for our city. Senator Aird has fulfilled her promise to equip Petersburg with the needed tools to drive positive change and foster growth for future generations.”

Five operators vying for license to operate a casino in Petersburg

On April 14, Aird hosted a public forum at the Petersburg Public Library allowing five interested entities to present their visions for a Petersburg casino. The RPF for the project calls for “a casino, destination resort, retail shopping, dinner and drink options, an event center and a hotel with a minimum of 500 rooms, with a preference for two four-star hotels.”

Representatives included one casino operator already in the state, Rivers Casino/Rush Street Gaming (which operates the state’s sole existing permanent casino in Portsmouth), as well as three nationally-known operators: Penn Entertainment, Bally’s and The Cordish Companies (the entity behind the Live! brand).

A fifth suitor, the Warrenton Group, is partnering with Delaware North and the Upper Mattaponi Tribe on a plan modeled after a successful Arkansas casino project.

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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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