Virginia Casino Bills Introduced to Qualify Fairfax as Gaming Location, Odds are Long

Posted on: January 24, 2023, 01:59h. 

Last updated on: January 24, 2023, 04:17h.

Virginia’s first permanent casino opened this week in Portsmouth. Three additional casinos are in development in Norfolk, Bristol, and Danville. And if two state lawmakers have their way, a fifth gaming property could one day be authorized near the Silver Line in Fairfax.

Virginia casino gambling Fairfax Silver Line
Virginia Sen. David Marsden in the Senate chambers in Richmond in January 2020. Marsden wants to qualify Fairfax County for a casino in the Commonwealth. (Image: The New York Times)

Virginia’s 2020 gaming law allowed five cities — Portsmouth, Norfolk, Bristol, Danville, and Richmond — to consider casino projects. Those cities met a slew of economic hardships as defined in the 2020 legislation. Voters in all but Richmond subsequently passed local ballot referendums authorizing casinos.

While legal efforts are underway to relocate Richmond’s casino license south to nearby Petersburg, state Sen. David Marsden (D-Burke) and Del. Wren Williams (R-Stuart) want the state to probe allowing a casino in Fairfax County. Marsden and Williams introduced nearly identical bills in their respective chambers last Friday — the state’s final day for lawmakers to file new legislation for the 2023 session.

The bills each seek to qualify Fairfax County as a host casino jurisdiction. The statutes would require that the casino be located within Fairfax proper and within a quarter-mile of an existing Silver Line station. The Silver Line is an extension of the Washington Metro rail system that lengthens from the nation’s capital into Virginia from Rosslyn in Arlington to Ashburn in Loudoun County.

2023 Long Shots

The last-minute filing of the Fairfax casino bills lengthens the odds of either statute passing the General Assembly this year. Gaming remains highly controversial in the commonwealth despite state lawmakers ending the state’s long opposition to most forms of commercial gaming in recent legislative sessions.

Marsden conceded to the Washington Business Journal that his bill is more of a preview of future gaming legislation. He plans to introduce a similar measure in 2024 to designate Fairfax as a casino host.

It’s too rushed,” Marsden acknowledged. “I’m probably going to have to talk to the individuals who approached me about it. I think it’s something that needs to be looked at, but this is just coming on too fast.”

Marsden refused to publicly name the individuals and/or companies that successfully convinced him to draft legislation for a Fairfax casino. Williams, whose district is in the southern part of the state in Patrick County, also opted to keep those parties unnamed. But he says such a review is warranted.

“From our conversations with our friends in Northern Virginia, we have been hearing that there is a real desire for new and different entertainment options,” Williams added. “We see that as a great opportunity for job creation, for economic development, and for generating revenue that can benefit the entire commonwealth.”

Opposition Strong

Should the Fairfax casino proposal gain traction in the Richmond capital this year or next, Marsden and Williams should expect heavy lobbying against the project.

A casino in Fairfax County would almost certainly poach some play from MGM National Harbor, the $1.4 billion integrated resort across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital in Oxon Hill, Md.

Churchill Downs, Inc. is also in the midst of constructing a $400 million gaming resort in Dumfries. Dubbed The Rose Gaming Resort, the facility along I-95 would be about 25 air miles from where a casino in Fairfax could be built, should Marsden and Williams have their way.

The Rose isn’t technically a casino under Virginia law. Instead, the resort will feature slot-like gaming machines that determine their outcomes based on previously run horse races.