Virginia: Richmond, Petersburg casino battle heats up with both cities all-in on getting referendum

The Virginia General Assembly started Wednesday, and along with it comes the ongoing battle between the cities of Petersburg and Richmond over who gets to host the state’s fifth casino. The war has been heating up as of late, with Richmond’s mayor saying Monday the city is all-in on getting a second casino referendum this November – a move that led Petersburg proponents to tell the city to back off until Petersburg has its own shot at becoming a host city.

Virginia’s General Assembly voted in 2020 to legalize casino gambling in five cities. Voters in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol approved casino operations that year, while Richmond voters narrowly rejected a $650 million casino resort proposed by Urban One in 2021. That defeat, which Richmond leaders attribute to misinformation about the project, sparked Petersburg’s entry into the casino sweepstakes.

Both cities are now making efforts towards hosting a casino. State Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Chesterfield, and Del. Kim Taylor, R-Dinwiddie, are sponsoring legislation that would allow Petersburg to vote on a casino referendum this November while simultaneously preventing Richmond from doing the same until after the Petersburg casino has been in operation for at least one year. But Richmond doesn’t plan to give up the fight.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney sent a letter to his city’s Assembly delegation this week in which he “clarified” his position on the Richmond casino, reports The Progress-Index. He urged the Richmond delegation to block any and all legislation that “constricts the rights of Richmond” to have the resort. The Richmond City Council has made the second casino referendum its top legislative priority for the 2023 session.

“I remain committed to ensuring Richmonders have a fair chance of truly expressing their support for a referendum on this topic in 2023,” Stoney said in the letter, as reported by the cited source. The statement led Morrissey to compare the letter to former President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the 2020 re-election defeat.

State Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Chesterfield

“Let me remind the mayor, once again, that he lost the casino referendum in 2021 when RVA voted ‘no’ to the casino referendum,” Morrissey wrote in a message reported on The Progress-Index. “So I would tell the mayor to stop acting like a petulant child, move out of the way, and allow the citizens of Petersburg to vote yea or nay on a casino referendum.”

The two multi-million resorts are being touted as financial saviors to two areas hit hard by financial issues. Media company Urban One wants to build a $565 million casino and hotel near Philip Morris USA in south Richmond, while The Cordish Companies proposes a $1.4 billion multi-use development for the Wagner Road area in south Petersburg.

A recent Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission study found that while Petersburg would make a suitable host city for a casino, having gambling parlors in both cities would bring even greater economic benefit to the area. That report, which Stoney cited in his letter, said that a Petersburg casino by itself would generate 18% of net gambling revenue for the state – but having a casino also in Richmond would increase that gaming revenue to 29%.

However, not everyone thinks two casinos are in the best interest of the cities. Cordish said that if the General Assembly opts for casinos in both Richmond and Petersburg, it would drop out. Morrissey, Taylor and Petersburg’s local elected leaders have also stated they are not interested in having two casinos.