Petersburg Casino Bill Clears Virginia Assembly, Referendum Faces Final Hurdle

Posted on: March 11, 2024, 09:21h. 

Last updated on: March 20, 2024, 12:13h.

The odds of a casino coming to Petersburg shortened last week ahead of the Virginia General Assembly’s March 9 adjournment.

Petersburg casino Virginia General Assembly
An aerial photo of the Petersburg Courthouse. The Virginia town’s skyline could undergo great change should state lawmakers in Richmond sign off on designating the area for a commercial casino resort. (Image: Shutterstock)

Senate Bill 628 passed the House of Delegates on Thursday by a 78-18 vote. The Senate subsequently voted on the House change 24-16 to approve the bill, which seeks to qualify Petersburg as a host city for a commercial casino resort.

The Virginia Senate first approved the legislation during a 29-10 vote on February 9. The upper chamber had to vote on the legislation again. That’s after House lawmakers tacked on an amendment requiring that the legislation undergo a second vote during a “subsequent regular or special session.”

The amendment means SB 628 isn’t immediately off to the ballot box for the November election. Instead, if Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) signs the bill, the provision would need second approval from the General Assembly next year or during a special legislative session that could be called this spring by the governor to finalize critical legislation, specifically, the state’s 2024-26 budget.

Special Session Likely

For Petersburg city officials — and others in the area supportive of becoming a possible casino host jurisdiction —  the odds are presumably good that the Virginia General Assembly will be called back to Richmond this spring by the governor. Virginia has an extensive track record of conducting special sessions, especially after even-numbered session years where biennial budgets are forwarded to the governor.

Youngkin called a special session in 2022 after reviewing the legislature’s proposed budget. Along with considering the $188 billion 2024-26 budget over the next 30 days, Youngkin is reviewing legislation to authorize a $2 billion sports arena in Alexandria. That venue would bring the NBA Washington Wizards and NHL Washington Capitals to Virginia, largely at the expense of Virginia taxpayers.

If lawmakers are called back, the odds are strong that Sen. Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) will use her clout to have SB 628 voted on again. Lucas is a cosponsor of the Petersburg casino bill with Sen. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg).

Lucas, the self-described “casino lady” of Virginia, initially opposed efforts to designate Petersburg for a casino after Richmond voted against a casino resort. Her tune changed after one of her longtime foes, Sen. Joseph Morrissey (R-Petersburg), was ousted from office by Aird. When Richmonders voted a second time against a casino, Lucas got behind the push to relocate the license about 25 miles south to Petersburg.

Referendum Process

Should the Virginia General Assembly be called back to Richmond for a special session and SB 628 field similar support in each chamber, the bill would need Youngkin’s signature. The governor has expressed willingness to endorse a Petersburg casino bill.

If Youngkin lends his blessing, voters inside Petersburg’s city limits during the November presidential election would be asked about a casino resort. Details of the project will be determined through a competitive bid conducted by the city council before the fall election.

Last month, the Petersburg City Council opened a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the development of the casino resort. Petersburg officials are seeking a project with a minimum of 500 hotel rooms, with a casino, restaurants, retail shopping, and a concert space. The local government has also told developers that it wants a $60 million upfront payment in exchange for the partnership.

The final details the city and partnered developer settle on, including a specific construction site, would be included in the referendum language. If a simple majority vote “yes,” the casino would be authorized.