Virginia House Passes Petersburg Casino Referendum Bill

Written By J.R. Duren on February 8, 2023
Petersburg, Virginia casino bill passes House goes to Senate for approval

It’s like a tale of two cities: one happy (Petersburg), one not (Richmond). This week, Virginia’s House of Delegates passed a bill that would put a Virginia casino referendum on the ballot in Petersburg.

The bill still has a big hurdle to overcome but, if it does, Richmond is out as the next possible site for a casino and Petersburg is in. How Petersburg and Richmond got to this point is a winding saga of big dreams and even bigger disappointments.

What the Petersburg vote means

Virginia law allows casinos in five cities, provided voters in those cities approve a new casino. Four cities moved through the voting process without a hitch and are developing temporary or permanent casinos.

The fifth, Richmond, failed to win over voters in a November 2021 referendum to bring a casino to the capital city. The vote was a close one, though. The referendum lost by 1,493 votes.

Since then, there’s been talk of developers wanting to push for another vote. Some state-level lawmakers balked, though. Why should Richmond get a second vote before another city like Petersburg gets a first vote?

And that’s how we ended up where we are today. The Petersburg casino referendum vote will move to the state Senate for multiple votes. If it passes, then a stroke of the pen by Gov. Glenn Youngkin will make it official.

However, the bill will only pave the way for a casino vote; it won’t legalize a Petersburg casino. That will be the voters’ responsibility during the next election cycle.

Will the Petersburg casino bill pass the Senate?

The general sentiment among lawmakers is that the Petersburg bill will not pass the Senate.

It’s common for state lawmakers to propose companion bills in the House and Senate. That happened in Virginia. Just last week, a companion bill to the House’s Petersburg referendum failed in a Senate committee meeting.

And because of that, it’s believed the bill will die once the Senate votes on it. Local media noted that the reason the Senate bill may have failed is that it included a requirement that the casino operator pays its workers the average prevailing wage.

However, if the bill were to pass and get Youngkin’s signature, it could be a huge win for Petersburg. The city hired Maryland-based Cordish Companies to build a $1.4 billion multi-use development that would be home to the Virginia casino.

Virginia casino in Petersburg wouldn’t end Richmond’s hopes

The House vote likely has pro-casino Richmond city leaders and developers holding their breath. Petersburg is located just 25 minutes south of Richmond.

If the southern neighbor gets its casino, a future Richmond casino would likely lose a good chunk of revenue. And with that in mind, it may be much harder to pitch a Virginia casino to developers and voters next time around.

Photo by Playin USA
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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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