Virginia: Petersburg Casino Effort Remains Alive, Fairfax Casino Bill Dead

A Virginia Senate subcommittee gave hope to a Petersburg casino effort on Thursday by advancing legislation that would designate the town as a qualified gaming host jurisdiction.

Petersburg Virginia casino gambling Richmond Fairfax
Petersburg Virginia casino gambling Richmond Fairfax
Sycamore St. in downtown Petersburg. Petersburg, like the five Virginia cities that qualified in 2020 to consider casinos to provide their regions with an economic spark, has certainly seen better days. (Image: WTVR)

Virginia legalized commercial gaming in 2020, but only in the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville. Those cities met the qualifying criteria dictated by the General Assembly that suggested how a casino might help revitalize the local economies of those distressed communities.

Before a casino is fully authorized for each city, the local government needed to field a development partner through a competitive bidding process. The final hurdle is gaining voter support through a local ballot referendum. Voters in all but Richmond signed off on their respective gaming projects.

Richmond’s casino referendum failed by less than 1,500 votes. State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Petersburg), whose district includes southern portions of Richmond, has been since trying to move Richmond’s rejected gaming license to Petersburg about 20 miles south of the state capital.

The Gaming Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology approved Morrissey’s Senate Bill 780 on Thursday. The measure now moves to the full committee for further consideration.

Legislative Components

Morrissey’s bill seeks to allow Petersburg to consider a casino development. The legislation would also prohibit Richmond from hosting another casino referendum until Petersburg “has had a reasonable opportunity” to consider a gaming undertaking.

A study conducted by the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) concluded last fall that casinos in both Richmond and Petersburg would be profitable, though each would generate far less revenue if both were to open.

Baltimore-based Cordish Companies, which operates casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania, won Petersburg’s casino bidding. The company pitched the town a $1.4 billion project — spread out over many years with multiple development stages — but the company’s interest would wane if Richmond were to open a casino, too.

The Richmond City Council and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) want to re-ask city residents about the $565 million casino pitched by black-focused media conglomerate Urban One in a partnership with billionaire gaming veteran Jon Yarbrough.

Richmond’s 2021 casino consortium additionally included Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E), which was to run the property should it come to fruition. P2E has since been sold to Churchill Downs, Inc. The Kentucky-headquartered horse racing and gaming operator said it would consider joining a new pact should Richmond move forward with another try.

Fairfax Casino Tossed

A separate legislative effort to designate Fairfax County as a qualified casino location was a short-lived undertaking in 2023.

State Sens. David Marsden (D-Burke) and Del. Wren Williams (R-Stuart) last week, on the final day of the 2023 legislative session to do so, filed legislation to allow Fairfax to consider a casino with its own local referendum. Marsden admitted that the odds were long of the bill gaining traction this year because of its highly controversial matter.

Just five days after being introduced on Jan. 20, Marsden and Williams’ Senate Bill 1543 was yanked from its assigned committee. The Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology approved Marsden’s request that the bill is struck from further consideration.

Marsden did not immediately respond for comment as to why he killed his own bill. But he previously said the issue would likely be more strongly considered during the state’s 2024 legislative session.

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