Petersburg, Virginia, Casino Odds Improve After Senator’s Key Endorsement

Posted on: January 16, 2024, 09:08h. 

Last updated on: January 17, 2024, 04:06h.

The odds of Petersburg, Va., becoming host to a commercial casino have shortened. That’s after legislation seeking to designate the small city — roughly 25 miles south of Richmond — gained support from one of the more powerful state lawmakers in the Commonwealth.

Petersburg casino Virginia Louise Lucas
The odds of Petersburg being allocated casino privileges presumably improved after state Sen. Louise Lucas (D) lent her support. Petersburg is seeking a gaming opportunity after voters in nearby Richmond said no twice to such a project. (Image: The Virginian-Pilot)

Legislation introduced this week in the General Assembly requests to amend Virginia’s 2020 commercial gaming bill that qualified five cities for commercial casinos. While not specifically identifying the town, Senate Bill 628 crafts updated qualifying conditions for cities to mull casinos that would only entitle Petersburg to casino gambling.

The legislation was introduced this week by state Sens. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg).

Lucas, the “Casino Lady” of Virginia — who fought for casinos for decades and was the primary sponsor of the state’s 2020 gaming statute — opposed legislative efforts to designate Petersburg as a casino host. That’s after Richmond rejected a proposed casino in 2021. When then-state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) continued to fight to allow Petersburg to field casino bids last year, she maintained her opposition.

After Richmonders last November voted against a casino in the capital metro for a second time, Lucas had a change of heart. She also conceded that her strong opposition to Morrissey, with whom she repeatedly butted heads, played a part in her previous hostility to qualifying Petersburg for a casino.

Lucas also expected the 2023 Richmond casino referendum to pass. But after voters there even more strongly dismissed the city’s casino pitch than they did in 2021, Lucas believes it’s time to reallocate the gaming privilege.

Petersburg Casino Bill

Lucas’ Petersburg casino bill comes with the support of Aird, who defeated Morrissey in last June’s Democratic primary. Virginia’s 2020 casino law mandated that only cities meeting certain economic hardships could field casino bids. They would then ask their residents to sign off on the city’s chosen gaming development through a local ballot referendum.

Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, Bristol, and Richmond met the law’s criteria. Each city except Richmond subsequently held local referendums authorizing a single casino. Lucas and Aird’s legislation seeks to amend the qualifying conditions with new criteria tailored toward Petersburg.

The statute would qualify any city “in which at least 17% of the assessed value of all real estate in such city is exempt from local property taxation … had a poverty rate of at least 21% in 2019 … and that had an annual unemployment rate of at least 13% in 2020.” Petersburg satisfies all of those standards.

City Support

Richmond selected Urban One, a Black-focused media conglomerate, to develop its casino. That despite the publicly traded company having no experience in hospitality or gaming.

Urban One partnered with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based casino operator, for its 2021 pitch, and Churchill Downs last year. Richmonders defeated the project each time, with whiter, more affluent neighborhoods being more strongly opposed to the project. Black voters lent more support to the casino initiative.

Petersburg might have more favorable demographics to pass a casino referendum. Along with support from Mayor Samuel Parham (D) and the City Council, Blacks account for more than three in four city residents.

Lucas and Aird’s bill has been directed for initial consideration in the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology.