Virginia Casino Bill Would Block Second Richmond Vote, Allows Petersburg Gaming Plan

The Virginia casino bill signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in 2020 allowed five cities to consider authorizing a commercial casino development to spur economic activity. A forthcoming supplemental piece of legislation seeks to add a sixth qualifying town.

Virginia casino Richmond Petersburg
Virginia casino Richmond Petersburg
State Sen. Joe Morrissey is seen in a 2019 file photo in the Virginia State Capitol. Morrissey is seeking to allow Petersburg to consider a commercial casino project after Richmond voters rejected such an initiative last November. (Image: Associated Press)

Virginia’s casino effort is tailored towards helping struggling cities reverse their fortunes. Voters in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville passed local referendums in November of 2020 approving a casino each in their cities.

Richmond voters were forced to wait a year because of city officials fielding high interest from casino parties. Richmond eventually picked a $565 million pitch from Urban One, a publicly traded, Black-focused media conglomerate based in the DC area. Dubbed ONE Casino + Resort, the project targeted vacant land south of the downtown area near the Philip Morris grounds.

However, Richmond voters in November of 2021 rejected the casino proposal. State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) says he will soon introduce legislation that seeks to allow voters in nearby Petersburg to consider whether to welcome the casino license originally allocated for the capital city. Petersburg is located roughly 20 miles south of Richmond,

Though Petersburg did not meet the qualifying conditions under the 2020 Virginia casino bill – which included numerous economic and social qualifiers, such as experiencing a population decline of at least 20 percent from 1990 to 2016 – Morrissey believes allowing the city to host the casino would benefit the entire region.

Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham has expressed his support for Morrissey’s legislative ambition. “It can transform the City of Petersburg,” Parham said of a possible casino last month.

Richmond Block

Morrissey says his gaming bill, if passed and signed by incoming Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, would additionally prevent Richmond from holding a second local casino vote. Morrissey has been an outspoken critic of Richmond City Councilmember Reva Trammell pushing a resolution to hold another local casino referendum during the November 2022 midterms.

Richmond residents narrowly rejected Urban One and development partner Peninsula Pacific Entertainment’s casino bid by a 51-49 percent vote.

That’s not the democratic process. Reva Trammell should know better,” Morrissey opined this week of her motion to conduct another tally. “I’m a little disappointed. I expected more from her.”

Trammell argues that Richmond voters on the southside do want the casino, but their voices were diminished by sharply divided racial and geographical voting lines. Exit polling concluded that white voters in Richmond’s more affluent neighborhoods north of the James River voted 2-1 against ONE Casino + Resort.

“I’m doing what my people have asked me to do,” Trammell told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in response to Morrissey’s comment. “I don’t know why Joe would say that. He knows how bad people wanted it.”

Potential Pushback

Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins says his company is still seeking to claim the fifth and final potential commercial casino license in Virginia. But after the Richmond vote, the under-development casinos in Norfolk and Portsmouth could engage in a lobbying campaign to block Petersburg from being considered.

Economic analysts say the 2021 Richmond casino vote was a major win for the Hampton Roads casino projects. Bob McNabb, an economics professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, says not having slot machines and table games in Richmond will bring more gamblers from the capital metro southeast to Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Norfolk voters approved a $500 million casino and resort called HeadWaters that will be located adjacent to the Harbor Park minor league baseball stadium. The commercial project comes from Virginia’s Pamunkey Indian Tribe and gaming industry billionaire Jon Yarbrough.

Portsmouth is partnered with Rush Street Gaming, a Chicago-based company that is constructing a $300 million casino called Rivers Casino Portsmouth next to Tidewater Community College.

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