Petersburg Casino Bill Stalled in Virginia Senate Committee

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A Virginia Senate committee voted against a bill which would have allowed Petersburg residents to vote on whether or not they wanted a casino in their city. [Image:]

Only made it through one committee

The political battle over the fifth and arguably most desirable casino location in Virginia continues, as the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee shot down a bill that would have let residents of Petersburg decide on whether or not they wanted a casino in their city. The committee voted 10-6 against House Bill 1373 on Thursday, led by Sen. Louise Lucas (D – Portsmouth), the Senate president pro tempore.

Richmond residents voted against a casino in a 2021 referendum

Lucas was actually one of the primary sponsors of the 2020 bill that legalized casino gambling in the state. That bill permitted casinos in five cities: Richmond, Norfolk, Danville, Bristol, and Lucas’ home city of Portsmouth. Richmond residents voted against a casino in a 2021 referendum, though, opening the door for another city to step in.

A judge approved a second casino referendum in Richmond about a year ago, but a compromise in the state budget prohibited a new vote until 2023 to provide time for a Petersburg casino viability study.

Not much love in the Senate

Supporters of a Petersburg casino are less than pleased. Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), one of the strongest Petersburg proponents in the legislature, blasted the committee, saying that it let “parochial interests get in the way of what’s best for Petersburg and citizens there.”

In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Morrissey didn’t hold back, accusing Lucas of trying to protect the Portsmouth casino, not to mention the one in adjacent Norfolk. Petersburg is nearby, less than 80 miles from both cities.

what she did was look out for the interests of rich, white casino developers”

Morrissey said that Lucas “did everything she could to be an obstructionist to a casino in Petersburg,” adding: “What she did was look out for the interests of rich, white casino developers to the detriment of African Americans. Shame on her!” For context, Lucas is Black and Morrissey is white.

Plan B for supporters of a Petersburg casino is to try to get something in the state budget that would keep casino a possibility while at the same time blocking another vote in Richmond.

Two Virginia casinos have opened

Of the five authorized Virginia casino locations, just two have casinos open for business at this point. Rivers Casino Portsmouth became the first full-service, permanent casino in the state when it opened on January 23 of this year. The $340 million complex is part of Portsmouth’s New Entertainment district.

the title of first permanent casino still goes to Rivers Casino Portsmouth

Also open is Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol in the far southwestern part of Virginia, though it is just in a temporary location right now while the permanent facility is under construction. As it opened in July 2022, it was technically the first casino in the state, but the title of first permanent casino still goes to Rivers Casino Portsmouth. The permanent Hard Rock casino is expected to open in the summer of 2024.

Caesars plans to have its casino in Danville ready to go in 2024 and a temporary casino this summer.

And then there is the Headwaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk, owned by the Pamunkey Tribe, which will be built on the parking lot of the minor league baseball team Norfolk Tides’ stadium complex. Headwaters planned to build a temporary casino in the baseball stadium, but the problem was that the referendum that passed in 2020 required the casino to be at 200 Park Avenue. The stadium is at 150 Park Avenue.

To get around that, the city quietly changed the address of the stadium to 200 Park Avenue, but The Virginian-Pilot sniffed it out. Temporary casino plans had to change and it will now be in the parking lot where the permanent casino will be, whenever that is.