Richmond’s Rejection Reignites Petersburg’s Casino Aspirations

Written By Darren Cooper on November 28, 2023
A map of Virginia showing where Petersburg is on a story about the city looking into a casino after Richmond citizens rejected one.

Richmond’s rebuff could be Petersburg’s windfall. The Petersburg City Council recently set the city’s agenda for the upcoming legislative year. It included creating a referendum by 2025 for the city’s 33,394 residents to vote on bringing a commercial casino to town.

After Richmond voters balked at building a casino in Virginia’s capital city – for the second time – one of the five casino-eligible slots remains open.

Petersburg officials want their city to claim that spot.

Virginia lawmakers would have to allow a casino in Petersburg

Virginia started on this land-based casino endeavor in 2019 when lawmakers chose five cities that could ask residents to approve a casino through a referendum. Voters in four of them – Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth – approved casinos, while Richmond voters rejected the proposal in 2021 and again a few weeks ago. Virginia online casinos are still illegal.

Because Petersburg was not one of the five cities chosen to house a casino, it’s up to the Virginia General Assembly to decide whether Petersburg meets the qualifying standards. Then, a referendum would need to be written and placed on the ballot to let Petersburg voters decide.

A state senator in Fairfax County is also pursuing a plan to add a casino in that area.

Petersburg, just 25 miles south of Richmond, has shown previous interest in bringing a casino to the city. After Richmond voters rejected a casino proposal in 2021, Petersburg officials worked with The Cordish Group in 2022 to develop a $1.4 billion resort just off I-95.

At its latest meeting, Petersburg councilmembers cited the solid economic results seen in the three Virginia cities that have opened casinos. (The proposal for a casino in Norfolk is still in the development stages.) A council resolution on the casino plan in Petersburg read:

“This venture could offer residents employment opportunities that surpass the current median household income of roughly $44,000 per year and individual income of about $26,000 per year. It is estimated that as many as 1,800 direct jobs could be created annually, along with up to 1,000 construction jobs.”

Petersburg city manager says city needs an economic boost

Petersburg is a city nestled on the south side of the Appomattox River. Virginia State University is nearby, and it was the site of multiple Civil War skirmishes. The classic Keystone Antique Truck and Tractor Museum is a top city attraction.

City Manager March Altman called the city, which is the 34th largest in Virginia, a distressed locality in need of an economic boost.

A report from the Joint Legislature Audit Review Commission has estimated that Petersburg could see annual gaming revenue of approximately $204 million, with local tax revenue at $12.2 million a year.

Interestingly, Petersburg officials not only want the General Assembly to allow a casino in the city, it wants lawmakers to eliminate the tax exemption for eligible host cities with a population of over 200,000. That would pretty much keep Richmond from pursuing a casino in the future.

Second time is not the charm in Richmond

Early in November, Richmond voters went back to the polls to vote on bringing a commercial casino to town. RVA Entertainment Holdings, a joint venture of Urban One and Churchill Downs, spent nearly $10 million on a campaign to sway Richmond voters.

Despite polls predicting a tight race, the result was a resounding defeat, with 61.6% voting against the proposition. Roughly, the same number of voters rejected the proposal that had voted against it in 2021 (40,200 and 39,800, respectfully), but support dwindled from 38,800 two years ago to 24,800.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney conceded it was time for the city to turn its attention to other economic needs.

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