Virginia Casino Bill Giving Petersburg A Chance For Final License Clears Senate

Virginia Casino Bill Giving Petersburg A Chance For Final License Clears Senate
Fact Checked by Thomas Leary

A bill giving residents in Petersburg a chance to decide whether a casino resort should be built in their community is now halfway through the legislature after the measure cleared the Virginia Senate in Richmond Friday.

The 29-10 vote on Senate Bill 628 came after no debate. Its passage means it will now head to the House of Delegates for its consideration. SB 628 is sponsored by Sen. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, and Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth.

“Senate Bill 628 simply allows for the fifth and final license of an eligible host city to be a locality that is an area with a population no greater than 200,000,” Aird told her colleagues. “It also requires certain specifications of what that eligible host city’s demographics need to look like.”

Under the bill, eligible communities must have at least 17% of the assessed value of property be exempt from local taxes; a poverty rate of 21% in 2019, according to U.S. Census Bureau data; and an annual unemployment rate of at least 13% in 2020 per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Those specifications fit the community of about 35,000 residents located 25 miles south of Richmond, and Petersburg would replace the state’s capital as a community eligible to host a casino. Richmond was one of five communities lawmakers initially approved to host a brick-and-mortar casino. Voters in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth all approved referendums so their projects could move forward. There are no legal Virginia online casinos.

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Richmond Says No, Twice

Richmond voters initially rejected plans by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment and Urban One to build one in 2021 by less than 1,500 votes out of nearly 79,000 ballots cast – a margin of less than two percentage points. Last year, after Churchill Downs Incorporated acquired the rights to the $562 million project from P2E, proponents tried once again. Opponents defeated the measure by a margin greater than 3-to-2.

With Richmond striking out twice, lawmakers from other communities proposed bills for this year’s General Assembly session to land a casino resort and provide an economic boost for their municipality and secure jobs for constituents. It appears Petersburg is the Senate’s pick after a similar measure geared toward Fairfax County in Northern Virginia was voted down in a Senate committee.

If the SB 628 becomes law, Petersburg residents could vote on the measure as soon as this November’s general election. The House will have one month to consider the bill as the General Assembly’s session concludes on March 9.

City officials are already beginning to work on identifying a casino operator. According to The Petersburg Progress-Index, the city council plans to hire The Robert Bobb Group to help with the selection process.

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Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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