Petersburg Casino Bill Passes Virginia House, Senate Odds Long

Posted on: February 7, 2023, 03:46h. 

Last updated on: February 8, 2023, 01:40h.

The Petersburg casino bill has passed the Virginia House of Delegates. The proposal would qualify the city to consider a casino resort and prevent Richmond from conducting another gaming referendum until Petersburg administers its own gaming initiative.

Petersburg casino Virginia Richmond gaming
An artist’s rendering of The Cordish Companies’ plan to build a $1.4 billion casino resort just west of I-95 at Wagner Road in Petersburg, Va. The Petersburg casino bill gained traction in the Virginia House of Delegates, but faces an uphill battle in the state Senate. (Image: City of Petersburg)

Introduced by Del. Kimberly Taylor (R-Dinwiddie), House Bill 1373 would allow Petersburg to ask local voters if they wish to authorize a casino in order to provide the region with an economic spark. Virginia lawmakers in 2020 qualified five cities to consider casinos — Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol.

The 2020 law required that each qualifying city hold a competitive bidding process to field the best casino pitch possible. After selecting a preferred developer, each project must gain final approval from local voters in the host locale. Voters in all but Richmond signed off on their local casino.

Taylor and state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) want to move Richmond’s rejected casino opportunity about 20 miles south. That’s where Petersburg officials hope to give their residents a chance to weigh in on a casino. While Morrissey’s Petersburg casino bill died in a Senate committee last week, Taylor’s companion legislation found adequate support in the lower chamber.

HB 1373 passed the House Tuesday by a vote of 49-44. The vote came on the final day of the 2023 session to approve legislation to send to the other chamber. With the House’s blessing, Taylor’s statute moves to the Senate for further consideration.

Senate Unlikely to Pass Casino Measure

Richmond government officials are hoping to reask voters about a casino this fall.

Urban One and Churchill Downs remain interested in constructing a $565 million casino called One Casino + Resort near the Philip Morris tobacco plant along I-95, south of the capital city. The city’s 2021 casino referendum was narrowly defeated by 51-49%.

Morrissey believes the will of the people in Richmond should be respected and the state’s fifth and final casino opportunity be redirected elsewhere. He successfully convinced his state lawmaking colleagues last year to include a budget provision that blocked Richmond from holding another gaming referendum until at least November 2023.

In response to Morrissey’s efforts to relocate Richmond’s gaming privilege to Petersburg, state lawmakers last year commissioned Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission to study the feasibility of having casinos in both Richmond and Petersburg.

The JLARC probe concluded that casinos could be profitable in both cities, though each would generate significantly more revenue without the other. The JLARC review concluded that lawmakers should develop a legislative plan that economically benefits both cities.

That’s why enthusiasm for Taylor’s bill in the Senate isn’t expected to be strong. It’s also likely why the Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee rejected Morrissey’s bill.

“We need to find a way to serve both cities, as JLARC says should be done,” admitted Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax).

Though Sickles voted in favor of HB 1373, he told The Progress-Index that the legislation’s passing the Senate “is highly questionable.”

Opponents Scold Cordish

Taylor told the House this week that voting in favor of her bill isn’t a vote in favor of a casino in Petersburg. She instead argued that backing her legislation is a vote “to support democracy and allow the good people of Petersburg to have their voices heard and to have a choice to embrace the economic opportunity of a generation.”

Opponents have questioned Petersburg’s lack of transparency in picking Baltimore-based Cordish Companies as their preferred casino developer. Some state lawmakers, including Del. Paul Krizek (D-Fairfax), have also scolded Cordish. They claim they are paying its Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland workers in Hanover pay considerably less than what MGM Resorts pays at its MGM National Harbor casino outside the nation’s capital in Oxon Hill.

“There’s a lot of reasons to vote against this bill,” Krizek (D-Fairfax) said ahead of the vote. “Why don’t we take things slower? If this is a great idea this year, it will be a great idea next year.”

Taylor countered Krizek by citing Cordish’s Petersburg casino plan that suggests salaries and compensation packages for most workers would be around $60K annually. The average worker in Petersburg currently makes just a little more than $26K a year.