Petersburg casino bill passes Va. House
Bill will progress to state Senate
The Virginia House of Delegates narrowly passed a bill Tuesday that would allow Petersburg residents to vote on a casino referendum this fall. The legislation moves next to the Virginia State Senate, where a similar bill died in committee.
Del. Kim Taylor, R-Dinwiddie, sponsored HB 1373, which passed 49-44 in the full House vote, with one delegate abstaining. Tuesday is the last day before crossover, when bills passed by each legislative body move to the other chamber for consideration. Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, was chief patron of the Senate bill, which failed in a narrow vote last week in the Senate Finance and Appropriations committee.
Taylor said on the House floor Tuesday that the measure, which would prevent Richmond from holding another casino referendum until Petersburg residents have had a chance to vote, would mean “economic independence” for Petersburg, which has come close to bankruptcy in recent years. She noted that the average annual income in Petersburg is about $26,000, while jobs at a proposed casino would be in the $60,000-per-year range.
“This bill is about raising the per capita income in my city,” she said.
Petersburg City Council members signed a commitment with Baltimore-based commercial real estate company The Cordish Cos. in October 2022 to develop a Live! Casino & Hotel resort, pending passage of state legislation and Petersburg voters’ support of a casino referendum this fall. Cordish officials have promised to spend $1.4 billion to build a casino, hotel and parking garage, as well as a multiuse development on the surrounding 90 acres, producing 1,800 direct jobs. However, Maryland-based Cordish, which has developed casinos across the mid-Atlantic and Florida, said it is not interested in developing a casino if Petersburg and Richmond both received a legislative green light to build casinos.
“We are excited Petersburg residents are one step closer to a better economic future,” Zed Smith, Cordish’s chief operating officer, said in a statement Tuesday. “We are hopeful this progress will continue favorably to allow Petersburg, an economically distressed city whose residents have suffered for years from a lack of investment, an opportunity to hold a local referendum and vote on a $1.4 billion transformative, privately funded development that will benefit the city for generations to come.”
Richmond officials, who have backed a second chance at passing a referendum to allow construction of Urban One Inc.’s proposed $565 million ONE Casino + Resort in the city’s South Side, oppose the bill. In November 2021, Richmond voters defeated a referendum that would have allowed the casino to be built.
Del. Mark Sickles, D-Springfield, was the only Democrat to support the bill in the House Appropriations committee last week, along with 11 Republicans. He said on the House floor Tuesday that the measure has “been presented as a zero-sum game, and I don’t really like it,” and noted that a study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) said that both Richmond and Petersburg could potentially support casinos.
Sickles also said that Taylor’s bill’s passage in the Senate is “questionable,” given the defeat of Morrissey’s bill, but he said he would support the measure to keep the possibility of a Petersburg referendum alive.