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I say we start with these four and go from there

The odds of Petersburg, Va., asking residents about a casino in November improved this week. That’s after legislation to designate the town as a casino host sailed through the state Senate.

After fielding unanimous support from the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee with a 15-0 vote on Tuesday, Senate Bill 628 moved to the chamber floor. On Wednesday, the full Senate voted 40-0 to approve the legislation.

Authored by powerful Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Sen. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg), SB 628 seeks to amend Virginia’s list of eligible casino host locations to include Petersburg. With the Senate’s blessing, the statute heads to the House of Delegates for further consideration.

The odds are good that Lucas and Aird’s bill will find similar support in the lower chamber and move to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) desk. The governor hasn’t explicitly said whether he’s willing to expand commercial gambling to Petersburg, but political insiders believe he’ll sign the bipartisan measure.

Petersburg Victory at Last
State efforts to qualify Petersburg for casino consideration began soon after Richmond voters narrowly rejected a proposed casino resort during the November 2021 election. Then-state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Petersburg) rallied to move the casino permit 25 miles south of the capital city to Petersburg, but his efforts were met with much resistance.

Richmond officials opposed Morrissey’s effort in hopes that a second referendum would tip the outcome in favor of a casino undertaking. Lucas, who frequently butted heads with Morrissey, opposed allowing Petersburg to ponder a gaming destination.

“I say we start with these four and go from there,” Lucas said a year ago this month about voters in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol approving their casinos.

After Aird ousted Morrissey from office, and Richmonders more strongly shot down the second referendum, Lucas changed her stance. Along with designating Petersburg as a casino host, SB 628 would also prevent cities from conducting more than one casino referendum.

Last month, Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) introduced Senate Bill 345. The statute was incorporated into Lucas’ legislation by the Senate ahead of its vote on the Petersburg bill. SB 345, now part of SB 628, would prohibit a city from reasking voters about a casino for three years from the date of a failed referendum.

City Moving Forward
In anticipation of SB 628 being signed by Youngkin, the Petersburg City Council on Tuesday signed off on allowing City Manager John “March” Altman to begin fielding interest from possible casino developers.

The Petersburg government faced criticism last year for seemingly striking a backroom deal with The Cordish Companies to be the city’s preferred casino developer, should the opportunity arise through state legislation. Cordish pitched a $1.4 billion mixed-use development to be built in several phases along I-95 at Wagner Road.

The Petersburg City Council and Mayor Sam Parham have committed to holding a competitive bidding process this time around.

Cordish, which is based in Baltimore, will likely be among the pool. Cordish’s 2023 plan for Petersburg included a casino floor with 2,000 slots, 60 table games, and a sportsbook. A 200-room hotel with a resort pool, entertainment venue, meeting and convention space, and over a dozen restaurants was additionally included in the initial blueprint
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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
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