Casino In Petersburg Gets VA House Approval, But Narrow Votes Signal Trouble

Written By Russ Mitchell on February 7, 2023
Live Casino & Hotel Virginia concept for casino in Petersburg

Virginia already has a pair of casino anchors along the Elizabeth River because of casino projects in Portsmouth and Norfolk. Is a casino in Petersburg next?

Things are much less settled about 100 miles inland where both Richmond and Petersburg supporters are trying to lock in separate Virginia casino plans.

A House bill to designate Petersburg as a casino-eligible city passed on a 49-44 vote Tuesday at the Virginia State Capitol. Next, it faces a Virginia Senate that is lukewarm about the plan.

Lawmakers there use economic data to control the distribution of casinos around the state. Then, voters decide whether or not their eligible host city becomes one of Virginia’s casino destinations.

  • We mentioned Portsmouth and Norfolk.
  • Bristol, Danville and Richmond all received inaugural permission to bring a casino plan to voters as well.

Only Richmond voters turned the project away. Now, Petersburg wants to replace the capital city on the state’s casino guest list.

That’s where the current legislative session carries some intrigue. The cities are only 25 miles apart, so Petersburg wants its first shot before Richmond gets a second casino try.

Lawmakers introduced partnering bills in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates to allow a Petersburg casino vote on Nov. 7, 2023.

If Petersburg succeeds, the current version of House Bill 1373 blocks a second casino vote in the city of Richmond as well.

Some possible cracks in Petersburg casino plans

We mentioned partnering bills in the Virginia House and Senate. Only the House version of the Petersburg-not-Richmond bill is still alive. The Senate version — SB 780 — died on a 9-8 committee vote Thursday night.

That means HB 1373 is Petersburg’s route to a casino vote. To get to Tuesday’s floor vote, HB 1373 squeaked out of the House budget committee by an 11-9 tally.

The bill can still be amended in the Virginia Senate.

The 11-9 House and 9-8 Senate committee votes — along with the 49-44 vote in the House of Delegates — suggest the Virginia General Assembly is evenly divided about the plan.

What’s ahead for the Petersburg casino bill

Michael Martz of the Richmond Times-Dispatch tracked the committee discussions in a Feb. 3 piece that is worth your time.

He reports that Del. Mark Sickles of Fairfax was the only Democrat to vote for HB 1373 in committee. Sickles supported continued discussion on the House floor.

A fellow Democrat, Del. Delores McQuinn, doesn’t oppose a Petersburg casino but she doesn’t think the support should come at Richmond’s expense:

“The way this has been crafted, it could be a detriment to one locality by trying to elevate another.”

One more look at the proposals

Now that the casino placement bill is in Senate hands, it could be a bargaining chip in budget discussions. The stakes are high for both cities.

The Richmond casino

Richmond couldn’t pair state approval with local support on Nov. 2, 2021. The city’s casino fell short of the majority needed to break ground.

The 2021 margin was so narrow, in fact, that the city could make a reasonable argument for a second chance.

  • No — 40,243 (50.95%)
  • Yes — 38,750 (49.05%)
  • Difference — 1,439 votes

Because so much time has passed, Richmond is no longer bound to its original $563 million pact with Urban One. The sides invested a lot of time together, however.

If lawmakers vote down HB 1373 and allow another Richmond vote — and if the city stays with Urban One — One Casino + Resort has 100,000 square feet of gaming space in mind to accommodate:

  • More than 1,800 slot machines
  • Over 100 table games
  • A poker room
  • And a high-tech sportsbook

One Resort + Casino plans called for 15 distinct restaurants and bars as well. Guests would stay in Legacy Tower, which included 250 hotel rooms with a city view.

Finally, resort designs included a business center, fitness room and 55 acres of green space. Developers designed Rise Theater to welcome more than 250,000 guests for 200 live shows.

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment would operate the south Richmond site near the Philip Morris manufacturing center and I-95.

The Petersburg casino

Petersburg has a much larger urban development plan in mind. The Cordish Companies’ Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia would serve as an anchor to a 4 million square foot concept at the intersection of Wagner Road and I-95 including:

  • 1,300 residential units
  • 600,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space
  • and 500 hotel rooms.

Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia would offer:

  • More than 670,000 square feet of gaming, hotel, dining and entertainment space
  • a resort pool and a fitness center
  • Over 2,000 slots and electronic table games
  • 60 table games including poker
  • Sportsbook
  • An event center for entertainment, meetings and conventions,
  • Over a dozen dining and entertainment options
  • Free surface parking

A recent state study suggests both casinos could operate successfully in the region. But both cities would have to scale down their plans. Cordish in particular does not want to do that.

Photo by File photo
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell covered news and sports in Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most decorated community newspapers in the state. He joined PlayIA as a lead writer and managing editor in 2021. He anxious to explore the growing Virginia gaming industry.

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