A Virginia Senate committee has voted against a bill that would have allowed Petersburgers to vote on whether or not they want a casino in their city. [Image: Shutterstock.com]
Only by one commission
The political battle over Virginia’s fifth and most attractive casino location continues, as the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee shot down a bill that would have allowed Petersburgers to decide whether or not they wanted a casino in their city. The committee voted 10-6 against House Bill 1373 on Thursday, led by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), the Senate president pro tempore.
Richmond residents voted against casino in the 2021 referendum
Lucas was actually one of the primary sponsors of the 2020 bill that legalized casino gambling in the state. This bill allowed casinos in five cities: Richmond, Norfolk, Danville, Bristol, and Lucas’ hometown of Portsmouth. Richmond residents voted against casino in the 2021 referendum, but they opened the door for another city to step in.
A judge approved a second Richmond casino referendum about a year ago, but a state budget compromise blocked a new vote until 2023 to buy time to study the viability of a Petersburg casino.
There is not much love in the Senate
Casino Petersburg supporters are not happy. Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), one of St. Petersburg’s staunchest supporters in the legislature, criticized the commission, saying it allowed “narrow interests to get in the way of what is best for St. Petersburg and the citizens there.”
in meeting with Richmond Times DispatchMorrissey did not back down, accusing Lucas of trying to protect the Portsmouth casino, not to mention the Norfolk casino next door. Petersburg is nearby, less than 80 miles from both cities.
What I did was seek out the interests of wealthy white casino developers.”
Morrissey said Lucas “did everything she could to be a hindrance to a casino in Petersburg,” adding: “What she did was look out for the interests of wealthy white casino developers at the expense of African Americans. Shame on her!” For context, Lucas is black and Morrissey is white.
Plan B for Casino Petersburg supporters is to try to get something into the state budget that will keep the casino going while at the same time preventing another vote in Richmond.
Two casinos have opened in Virginia
Of the five approved casino locations in Virginia, only two have casinos open for business at this point. Rivers Casino Portsmouth became the first full-service permanent casino in the state when it opened on January 23 of this year. The $340 million complex is part of Portsmouth’s new entertainment district.
The title of first permanent casino still goes to Rivers Casino Portsmouth
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol has also opened in the far southwest part of Virginia, though it is in a temporary location for now while the permanent facility is still under construction. Since it opened in July 2022, it was technically the first casino in the state, but the title of first permanent casino still goes to Rivers Casino Portsmouth. The permanent Hard Rock Casino is expected to open in the summer of 2024.
Caesars plans to have its casino in Danville ready to go in 2024 and a pop-up casino this summer.
Then there’s the Headwaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk, owned by the Pamunkey Tribe, which will be built in the parking lot of the Norfolk Tides stadium complex for the minor league baseball team. Headwaters planned to build a temporary casino on the baseball field, but the problem was that a referendum passed in 2020 required the casino to be at 200 Park Avenue. The stadium is located at 150 Park Avenue.
To get around that, the city quietly changed the stadium’s address to 200 Park Avenue, however Virgo pilot smell it. The plans for the temporary casino had to be changed and you will now be in the parking lot where the permanent casino will be, wherever it is.