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General Assembly rejects Petersburg’s casino bill

Petersburg’s second bill to approve a referendum for the construction of a casino in the city has been rejected by the General Assembly. This move squashed Petersburg’s chances of building its $1.4 billion gaming venue and stopping Richmond from hosting another vote.

On Thursday, the Democrat-led Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee voted 10-6 to kill Del. Kim Taylor’s (R-Dinwiddie) bill. In a General Assembly session two weeks ago, the same committee rejected a similar proposal from state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond).

If any of the bills had been approved, it would have allowed the city to host a referendum in November to give its residents a chance to decide on the future of a casino in Petersburg. The city had partnered with the Cordish Group for the $1.4 billion casino, which would have been built off the Wagner Road exit on I-95.

State Sen. Louise Lucas was behind the motion to reject the measure. Speaking to the Senate panel, she revealed that she wished the legislature followed a more systematic approach before allowing other cities to host casino referendums.

The Senate committee’s decision will allow Richmond, which held an unsuccessful casino referendum in 2021, the opportunity to host a second vote. The city previously failed to approve the casino plans for ONE Casino + Resort with just under 1,500 votes.

Sen. Joe Morrissey, who pushed the first casino bill, revealed that he was not surprised by the committee’s decision and promised that the fight to bring a gaming venue to the city was not over yet.

“We, I’m talking about all the stakeholders who want to bring that casino to Petersburg, are resolute. It’s coming there, and we’re not giving up,” Sen. Morrissey said.

While this route could prove tedious for the referendum supporters, Petersburg’s efforts to build a casino could be resurrected at the state budget negotiations. Morrissey revealed that the move would stop Richmond from organizing a second casino vote.

“I have communicated with the heads of House budget, and I’m confident there will be language in that budget,” he said.

Dr. Michael Jones, Richmond’s City President, revealed that the city was gratified by the committee’s decision and claimed Richmond continued to be the best bet for a new gaming venue. He added that the situation which pitted both cities against each other did not sit well with him.

“My concern would be the General Assembly trying to delay Richmond from voting, from holding a referendum for another year. They decided on Richmond for a reason, so give us that opportunity,” Jones said.

Depending on the language’s outcome, Jones promised to move to add the casino referendum to Richmond’s ballot after the state budget is completed.

“We think, and I know, that voters in the southside and a lot of voters throughout the city have a clear message now about what this casino is about, where the tax revenue is gonna go, and how it’s going to impact tourism, businesses, and even taxes in the city. So we deserve another shot,” he continued.

The Virginia General Assembly approved a bill to permit five municipalities in the state to build casinos in 2019. In 2020, successful referendums were held in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol. Portsmouth is currently the only city in the state with a casino; however, the gaming venues in the other municipalities are en route to opening.

After Richmond’s voters rejected the last referendum, the city and Petersburg have been trying to nab the final spot to build a casino. There is also the option of allowing six cities in the state eligible to host a casino referendum. A Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report released earlier disclosed that gaming venues in both cities could work.

If either bill had moved forward and the city had approved of a casino, Cordish Group’s casino would have been built in several phases. The project features a 4 million square casino resort with a hotel, gaming venue, resort pool, and venue for events. It features a budget twice the amount of Richmond’s.

In a joint statement, Churchhill Downs Inc. and Urban One, who collaborated on the proposed Richmond casino project, pointed out that a casino in the city was more likely to provide more revenue, jobs, and economic benefits, making Richmond the best fit for the job.

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

“Every study conducted has consistently revealed that a casino resort in Richmond will generate the most jobs, revenue, opportunity, and economic benefits for the city, Central Virginia, and the entire Commonwealth.”

“Now, we turn our attention to a successful referendum in November. We are eager to share our vision for this project and its many benefits, including thousands of quality jobs, millions for schools and tax relief, and revitalization of neighborhoods that have too often been left behind.”

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