Petersburg City Council Reignites Casino Effort After Richmonders Vote ‘No’

Posted on: November 23, 2023, 04:44h. 

Last updated on: November 23, 2023, 11:16h.

During its Tuesday meeting, the Petersburg City Council voted to renew its push to gain the legal right to ask its citizens if they want to welcome in a commercial casino resort.

Petersburg casino Virginia Richmond
An aerial view of Petersburg. The Virginia city, about 25 miles south of the Richmond capital, will pursue commercial casino privileges in 2024. (Image: Facebook)

Earlier this month, voters in the Virginia capital rejected a proposed casino resort for the second time. The project would have been led by Urban One, a Black-focused media conglomerate. The company’s most recent casino presentation was made in partnership with Churchill Downs.

After Richmonders more strongly voted against the casino during the 2023 election than they did in 2021, Richmond city officials appear ready to fold on their gaming ambitions. That has prompted the Petersburg government to reestablish its efforts to gain the gaming concession. But that would require an amendment to the state’s 2020 gaming law.

In light of Petersburg’s status as a distressed locality, advancing a casino could provide significant economic relief,” the gaming resolution passed Tuesday by the Petersburg City Council reads.

This isn’t the first time Petersburg has expressed interest in becoming a designated casino host in the commonwealth. Legislation pushed by state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond, Petersburg) last year ultimately stalled in a Senate committee.

The Petersburg gaming resolution will result in the city government working with state lawmakers to craft a bill that would allow the city to consider a casino and hold a competitive bidding process for the possible development. The goal, city officials say, is to present Petersburg voters with a gaming referendum in 2025.

Job Benefits

Virginia’s 2020 gaming bill allowed five cities, including Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol, to ask their residents if they wished to allow a casino. The legislation was authored as an economic stimulator, as that handful of cities met a slew of economic hardship.

All but Richmond signed off on their casino opportunities. Rivers Casino Portsmouth has since opened, and temporary casinos are operating in Bristol and Danville while those cities’ permanent casino resorts are constructed. The fate of the Norfolk casino remains unclear, though the tribe behind the project says it remains steadfast in bringing the $500 million resort to reality.

Petersburg officials reasoned in passing their gaming ordinance on Tuesday that bringing slot machines and table games to the region would help turn around their city’s economy. City councilors pointed to Bristol and Danville, where those temporary casinos — respectively operated by Hard Rock International and Caesars Entertainment — have immediately provided millions of new local tax dollars and created hundreds of well-paying jobs.

“This venture could offer residents employment opportunities that surpass the current median household income of roughly $44,000 per year and individual income of about $26,000 per year,” the resolution read.

Immediate Tax Streams

Hard Rock Bristol opened its provisional gaming space inside the former Bristol Mall on July 8, 2022. Caesars opened its Danville Casino in a pavilion tent in mid-May.

Since their openings, the temporary casinos have generated millions of dollars in new local tax revenue. Last month alone, Caesars directed more than $1 million to the Danville city government. Bristol received nearly $761K.

Those amounts are specific to gaming and don’t include property tax revenues and taxes spurred by food, beverage, and entertainment sales.

Caesars Virginia generated gross gaming revenue (GGR) of $16.8 million in October. Hard Rock Bristol reported GGR of $12.6 million.

Morrissey believed Richmond reasking city residents about a casino was undemocratic. He fought to no avail to amend the state’s gaming law to qualify Petersburg as a casino host.

A study on casino feasibility conducted by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) last year determined that casinos would be profitable in Richmond and Petersburg, though each would provide considerably more tax benefits without the other in operation.

Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham is an adamant supporter of a casino in town, and believes such an entertainment destination could “transform the city.” The Baltimore-based Cordish Companies has expressed interest in betting on Petersburg should the city be allocated a gaming opportunity.

Last December, Cordish presented Petersburg with a $1.4 billion integrated resort casino blueprint that would be built over a period of several years through multiple construction phases.

“Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia will transform the city by creating a thriving entertainment and hospitality attraction for the entire region and provide first-class amenities for the local community while generating spin-off economic development, creating thousands of new jobs for area residents and substantial opportunities for local, minority, women-owned, and veteran-owned businesses,” Cordish COO Zed Smith said at the time.