Fairfax County Supervisors Warn Of Widespread Opposition For Casino

Written By T.J. McBride on January 29, 2024
Map showing Fairfax, where county supervisors warn of widespread opposition to a casino bill

Virginia lawmakers have already taken multiple steps toward adding a casino in Fairfax County, but supervisors in Fairfax County have not been included in the process.

Now, the Fairfax County supervisors have asserted their own opinion — that, given the lack of community involvement, there is “significant community concern and opposition” to a Fairfax County casino proposal.

The supervisors submitted a formal written letter to state lawmakers late last week expressing frustration that they have had no part in discussions regarding casino legalization for their county.

Senate Bill 675, which would put a casino bill on the ballot in November to be voted on by residents, has already cleared two committees. At this point, it shows the potential of being passed by the Virginia Legislature.

Lack of community involvement has formed opposition to a casino in Fairfax County

In 2020, Virginia lawmakers passed legislation that allowed casinos to be built in five cities: Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Richmond.

Today, Richmond is the lone city without plans for a casino after voters struck down casino plans on the ballot twice. Now lawmakers are looking to take the casino license set aside for Richmond and use it in Fairfax County instead. That is why SB 675 was filed by state Sen. David Marsden.

That bill has advanced through the subcommittee and committee stages and will now be presented to the Senate Finance Committee.

The only issue is Fairfax County supervisors have yet to be approached with these plans, according to Jeff McKay, the chair of the County Board, via DC News Now.

“What happened here is that people in a vacuum worked on a plan and went to Richmond without coordinating with Fairfax County,” McKay told the local news station. “None of those groups have come formally, sat down with me and said, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re proposing. This is what our bill looks like. Will Fairfax County engage in conversations with us?’”

That is why the Fairfax County supervisors sent in their written testimony to House Speaker Don Scott, House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, and Senate Minority Leader Ryan McDougle.

Could this be another Richmond situation?

According to McKay, the lack of community engagement prior to putting forth legislation has created in Fairfax County the same type of opposition that destroyed Richmond casino plans during the last election.

“It likely comes as no surprise to you that the location and concept included in the legislation and reported in the media has generated significant community concern and opposition,” he said. “Furthermore, since a community engagement process was not conducted prior to the bill being introduced as it was in other jurisdictions, we believe the bill in its current form is likely to result in strong community opposition to the future referendum.”

Most county supervisors oppose construction of casino in Tysons Corner

While there was no request for legislative action, the Fairfax County supervisors’ testimony made their widespread opposition clear. That opposition also exists in smaller pockets of local government and within residents.

According to James Bierman, who represents Dranesville District, he is hearing the same thing from many of the residents he represents.

“I’m not hearing a lot of different things from my constituents,” Bierman said during a recent meeting. “I’m hearing uniformed opposition.”

The Town of Vienna has already voted unanimously to oppose a casino in Fairfax County and had its Legislative Agenda amended to include that vote.

McKay questioned if adding a casino is good for Fairfax County.

“If this casino generated $200 million and only $50 million of that came back to Fairfax County,” he told DC News Now, “and I was left with all the problems related to a casino? That’s not a good deal for my taxpayers. We’re not in this to be the state’s ATM.”

Sen. Marsden remains undeterred despite local pushback

Regardless of local pushback, Marsden still feels a casino is the key to solving the economic issues of the area.

“This is the canary in the coal mine that our economy is changing in northern Virginia, and we need this help,” Marsden said during the bill’s Senate General Laws and Technology Committee earlier this month.

Marsden’s reasoning for the need for a casino in Northern Virginia includes a few different topics. One major point is keeping people in Virginia from traveling to Maryland to gamble. Adding a casino in Fairfax County would give residents a local option.

Marsden also feels that the casino would just be part of a greater entertainment complex off of the Silver Line. Using the foot traffic generated by the casino to stimulate new nightlife options, restaurants, bars, convention space and other sorts of entertainment would be a large economic boost in his eyes.

Next up for SB 675 is the Senate Finance Committee. If it makes it through and is passed, the bill will need to be approved by the Senate and then the House of Delegates. Then it will go to the desk of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to be signed before appearing on the ballot in November.

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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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