Petersburg Casino Referendum Bill to Be Introduced in Virginia Legislature

Posted on: January 10, 2024, 09:06h. 

Last updated on: January 16, 2024, 08:14h.

The Virginia General Assembly convened for its 2024 legislative session on Wednesday, and later this week, a bill seeking to designate Petersburg as a qualified casino host city is expected to be filed.

Virginia casino Petersburg
Virginia Del. Kim Taylor, a Republican, is hopeful 2024 is the year when Petersburg is allowed to mull a casino resort. After Richmond voters for a second time rejected a casino pitch, some Virginia lawmakers are jockeying to bring the gaming project to their districts. (Image: WRIC Richmond)

Petersburg wasn’t one of the five cities that Virginia lawmakers in 2020 allowed to mull a commercial casino project to spark their regional economies. But after Richmond twice rejected casino proposals, state efforts have ensued to relocate the capital city’s gaming opportunity roughly 25 miles south to Petersburg.

Del. Kim Taylor (R-Dinwiddie), whose county encompasses Petersburg, has helped spearhead the Petersburg casino push since Richmonders first rejected a casino in 2021. Taylor believes a new legislative makeup in the Richmond capital presents better odds for Petersburg being allowed to ask its city residents if they wish to allow a gaming resort to come to town.

We’re in a totally different climate,” Taylor told The Progress-Index. “The Republicans are now the minority, but carrying the casino referendum legislation last session, I really had a chance to get to know the delegates and different lobbyists. We’re going to continue to build on that. Then, of course, we got a lot of new people. There’s going to be building new relationships.”

The biggest change related to a Petersburg casino is that state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Petersburg) is no longer in office after being defeated in last June’s Democratic primary.

Morrissey, who co-led the Petersburg casino push with Taylor, was a controversial lawmaker who had plenty of opponents in Richmond. His Assembly tenure also faced controversy when it was revealed he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, who would later become his wife. Morrissey married Myrna Pride in 2016 when she was 20 and he was 59.

Taylor was also almost ousted during November’s election after narrowly defeating her Republican challenger by just 53 votes.

Better Odds

Taylor believes Morrissey’s exit might improve the odds of a Petersburg casino bill gaining adequate support in Richmond.

She says personal grudges stalled her and Morrissey’s legislative effort last year, when Sen. President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) — dubbed the “Casino Lady” for championing casino legislation for years — said Virginia has enough casinos with the four already approved through local referendums.

Lucas was a longtime foe of Morrissey. Taylor said she was “disappointed” when Lucas mothballed her and Morrissey’s casino bill last year after it passed the House of Delegates in February 2023.

Casino License Fight

Lucas said after Richmond voters rejected a casino proposal for the second time last November that the capital city’s gaming efforts should be officially over. Virginia lawmakers should consider reallocating the license, she said.

The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based gaming operator with casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania, has expressed interest in partnering with Petersburg on a possible casino opportunity. A separate legislative push in Fairfax County in the northern part of the state is also expected to field a considerable fight for the Richmond license.

Virginia Sen. David Marsden (D-Burke) and Del. Wren Williams (R-Stuart) believe the state should allow a casino in Northern Virginia, the wealthiest part of the commonwealth, to stop the flow of gaming money into neighboring Maryland.

While there is support in Petersburg for a casino, with Mayor Sam Parham being among the project’s biggest cheerleaders, there has been widespread opposition in Vienna and McClean to a possible gaming development in Fairfax.