Virginia House Speaker Lends Support for Petersburg Casino

Posted on: January 23, 2024, 09:51h. 

Last updated on: January 23, 2024, 10:42h.

Virginia House Speaker Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) is the latest lawmaker in Richmond to lend his support toward allowing Petersburg to consider a commercial casino undertaking.

Virginia House Speaker casino Petersburg
Don Scott is sworn in as the first Black Speaker of the Virginia House on Jan. 10, 2024. Scott thinks a commercial casino resort in Petersburg is a worthy legislative endeavor this year. (Image: AP)

Scott said his capital colleagues should consider a new host location for the fifth casino license voters authorized during a statewide ballot referendum in 2020. The license was intended for Richmond, but residents there twice voted against a proposed casino resort development. His comments came days after taking the speakership after Democrats regained control of the lower legislative chamber during the November 2023 election,

State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) initiated calls to relocate the Richmond gaming license about 25 miles south to Petersburg after the first resort referendum was denied by Richmonders in 2021. Lawmakers didn’t get on board and Richmond was ultimately allowed to conduct a second gaming referendum, though it met a similar fate.

Morrissey had plenty of opponents in Richmond, and not the shiniest of personal reputations. In 2013, Morrissey faced a slew of criticism for having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old when he was in his 50s. The two married in 2016 when he was 59 and she was 20.

New Leadership

Speaking with The Petersburg Progress-Index, Scott says new leadership in Richmond improves the odds of Petersburg being designated as a qualifying casino host.

“Last year, it had the wrong people leading it. I think, right now, the right people are based in the community who really care and don’t bring politics in,” Scott explained.

It’s an economic development opportunity. It’s a job-growth opportunity,” the House leader continued. “I think they had a person coming in, people coming in wanting it to do more with politics.”

Morrissey was ousted from office by way of the 2023 Democratic primary. He lost by a 40% margin to Lashrecse Aird.

Scott isn’t the only powerful lawmaker supportive of a Petersburg casino push. Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) has filed legislation to designate Petersburg as a casino host. Aird is a cosponsor of the bill.

“If the people of Petersburg want a casino, they should be able [to have a casino],” Scott said. “But it has to come from the people who represent them and it has to have the right leadership to get it done.”

The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based gaming and hospitality giant that runs casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania, has expressed interest in developing a resort in Petersburg.

In late 2022, the company unveiled a plan for a $1.4 billion development to be built out over multiple construction phases and several years. Upon completion, the destination — if built as proposed — would entail more than 670,000 square feet of gaming, hotel, dining, and entertainment space.

Richmond Redo

Legislation has also been introduced in Richmond that seeks to prevent the city’s local government from holding another casino referendum.

State Del. Betsy Carr (D-Richmond) has filed a bill that would remove Richmond from the 2020 gaming statute that qualified the city for a casino. Del. Michael Jones (D-Richmond) has authored a separate bill that would prohibit casino hosts from conducting more than one local referendum to get their resort approved.