Petersburg casino bill fails

Richmond could now have another casino referendum on the ballot
Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 6:04 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 17, 2023 at 6:21 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The last surviving bill allowing Petersburg to ask voters if they want a casino has been shot down in the General Assembly.

The Senate Finance Committee voted down the bill Thursday in a 10-6 vote. The same committee also killed a similar bill earlier in the General Assembly session.

If the measures had passed, it would have paved the way for Petersburg residents to vote on bringing a $1.4 billion casino project from Cordish Group, which would have been located right off the Wagner Road exit on I-95.

The vote comes as Richmond leaders set their sights on a second casino referendum after voters rejected plans for ONE Casino + Resort back in 2021.

Sholanda Venable-Royster, a Petersburg resident, was disappointed to hear about the vote. Venable-Royster believes the casino would be beneficial for Petersburg.

“It would have brought some jobs to the area, and it would have established additional economic growth for the city,” she told NBC12. “So, yeah, we’re in support of the casino, and I think it’s a missed opportunity.”

Sen. Joe Morrissey, who was spearheading efforts to bring a casino to Petersburg, told NBC12 he was not surprised about the turnout of the vote but said the fight is not over.

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

Language in the state budget could potentially revive Petersburg’s efforts at a casino referendum, which Morrissey said would block Richmond from holding another casino referendum.

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

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

Once the state budget is finalized and depending on the outcome of the language, Jones said he will move to include the casino referendum on the ballot again for Richmond voters.

“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,” said Jones. “So we deserve another shot.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also weighed in on Thursday’s vote and said he would be watching closely to see what’s included in the state budget.

“I know there’s a long process to it that remains. There’s a budget process,” said Mayor Stoney. “We still believe that Richmond reserves the right to have another opportunity so we can actually bring good job opportunities to south Richmond.”

In response to the vote from the Senate Finance Committee, a spokesperson for the City of Petersburg sent NBC12 the following statement:

“The City is disappointed that Petersburg residents were not given the opportunity to vote on a transformational economic development project.”

A representative from the Cordish Group, the developers spearheading Petersburg’s proposed casino, also sent NBC12 the following statement:

“Our $1.4 billion urban revitalization project would be transformational for Petersburg, with 4,000 new jobs and millions of dollars in additional local and state tax revenue,” said Zed Smith, Chief Operating Officer of The Cordish Companies. “As the General Assembly continues its deliberations, we hope the state’s elected leaders will explore every avenue to help provide this major economic development boost to Petersburg.”

In a joint statement, Urban One Inc. and Churchhill Downs Inc., partners working on the proposed casino resort in Richmond, also sent the following information after the vote on the casino legislation.

“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. 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.”