Petersburg Casino Plans On Life Support Following Virginia Committee Vote

Written By Adam Hensley on February 24, 2023
Live Casino & Hotel Virginia concept for casino in Petersburg

Petersburg casino plans are dead. For now.

Virginia’s Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee voted 10-6 against the proposed legislation. HB 1373 barely squeaked by earlier this month in the Virginia State Capitol.

HB 1373 would have designated Petersburg as one of Virginia’s casino-eligible cities. Under this bill, Petersburg residents would have been able to cast their votes in November on whether or not to approve the proposed $1.4 billion Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia. The bill would have blocked a second vote on a casino in Richmond, too.

“This is a devastating setback for the people of Petersburg and the democratic process,” Del. Kim Taylor said in a statement. “The people of Petersburg deserve better. They should have the right to determine the economic future of their community independent of Richmond.”

Why didn’t the Petersburg casino bill pass? One senator has an idea

Sen. Joe Morrissey wasn’t happy after the vote. In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he said the committee let “parochial interests get in the way of what’s best for Petersburg and citizens there.”

Morrissey went on to say Senate president pro tempore Louise Lucas killed the bill to protect the existing Rivers Casino in Portsmouth. To him, the vote doesn’t make much sense. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is building HeadWaters Casino just over the Elizabeth River in Norfolk. Why worry about Petersburg, which is a full 85 miles away? Norfolk and Portsmouth are just six miles apart.

Morrissey told the Times-Dispatch that Lucas “did everything she could to be an obstructionist.”

“What she did was look out for the interests of rich, white casino developers to the detriment of African Americans,” he said. “Shame on her.”

Lucas, however, said she wanted the committee to lead with a “more methodical” approach when it came to casino requests. She was a vocal proponent for Virginia’s 2020 law that legalized casino gambling.

Richmond casino partners respond to HB 1373’s vote

Petersburg wanted to leapfrog Richmond in the casino pecking order with HB 1373. Richmond previously received permission for voters to decide on a casino plan, but they turned down the project in November of 2021.

The Richmond casino partners consist of Urban One and Churchill Downs Inc. The partners shared in a statement that HB 1373’s vote is eye-opening.

“We appreciate the General Assembly’s careful, deliberate process and open mind in considering and addressing this important decision,” the statement reads. “For us, the process has always been about determining what is best for the Commonwealth and that answer has always been quite clear.”

Petersburg casino could spell ‘major economic development boost’ for the area

It’s no secret that where casinos arise, the money follows.

So far, Virginia’s growing casino gambling industry is off to a hot start. With both the Bristol Casino – Future Home of Hard Rock and Rivers Casino Portsmouth up and running, the state’s casino revenue reached an all-time high in January.

Revenue stood at $22.5 million that month. The Bristol location generated $13.4 million in revenue, while the Portsmouth casino tallied roughly $9 million in its brief operating period.

“As the General Assembly continues its deliberations, we hope the state’s elected leaders will explore every avenue to help provide this major economic development boost to Petersburg,” Cordish Chief Operating Officer Zed Smith told the Times-Dispatch.

What’s next for the Petersburg casino?

Don’t count out a Petersburg casino just yet.

While HB 1373 died this month, there’s a chance hopes could be resurrected in another manner.

Petersburg advocates hope that House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight could tweak language in Virginia’s pending state budget. Petersburg proponents hope the budget could not only revive the Petersburg plans but block a second vote on Richmond’s proposed casino.

“It’s absolutely an option,” Knight told the Times-Dispatch.

This wouldn’t be the first time added language in the budget affected casino plans. Knight’s addition in the 2022 Virginia budget blocked Richmond’s second vote last fall.

But those plans, no matter how concrete, are on hold according to Knight. Casinos view a pending bill to overturn a ban on electronic skill games in Virginia as a danger to business.

Both Petersburg and Richmond could support casinos

While both cities jockey for position, it’s possible both could sustain casinos. In late 2022, Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission announced that both Petersburg and Richmond could support a casino.

But, developers at both sites would have to scale back plans if two casinos serve the region same region. Cordish won’t consider that option at all.

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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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