Virginia Senate panel kills Petersburg’s bid for casino, opening door to second Richmond referendum

A Virginia Senate panel has derailed Petersburg’s pursuit of a $1.4 billion casino project. The last surviving bill this year allowing the city to ask its voters whether they wanted the gaming property has died, frustrating Petersburg’s hopes to become a host city while possibly opening the door for Richmond to have a second chance at a casino referendum.

The Democrat-led Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee rejected a bill from Del. Kim Taylor (R-Dinwiddie) Thursday that would have let Petersburg put a question on ballots this November to give voters the final say on bringing a casino to the city, reports WRIC. While House Bill 1373 had survived a vote the previous day by the Senate General Laws Committee, the powerful finance panel killed it at the urging of Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth).

The 10-6 vote to kill the bill comes exactly two weeks after an identical bill from state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) failed to advance out of the same committee. Richmond City Council President Dr. Michael Jones celebrated the decision, telling 8News that the city is “pleased” with the outcome.

For her part, Taylor said in a statement: “This is a devastating setback for the people of Petersburg and the democratic process. The people of Petersburg deserve better. They should have the right to determine the economic future of their community independent of Richmond.”

Kim Taylor

In 2020, Virginia lawmakers passed legislation to allow five cities to become eligible for a casino. All of them but Richmond approved casino gaming, where city voters rejected a proposed $600 million casino resort. Since then, the city has been pushing for another ballot referendum, while Petersburg attempted to take the spot as the fifth casino host.

Taylor’s legislation would have allowed Petersburg voters to decide on a proposed $1.4 billion casino project from The Cordish Companies that the city already signed off on. But with Thursday’s vote, rival city Richmond is poised to push for another ballot referendum after its first effort to bring a casino to the city’s Southside failed in 2021 by just under 1,500 votes.

However, Petersburg’s bid for a casino could still be revived in the state budget, reports Richmond Times-Dispatch. Casino backers are now relying on House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), a lead sponsor of the 2020 casino law, to include language in the pending state budget to keep Petersburg’s hopes for a casino alive and prevent Richmond from holding a second vote on a casino proposed next to Interstate 95 in South Richmond.

Rendering for Cordish Co.'s proposed project for Petersburg

Knight said his “default position right now is to put everything on hold — no referendum for Petersburg and no referendum for Richmond” until after a circuit court in Emporia acts on pending legislation to overturn a ban on electronic skill games that casinos consider a threat to their financial viability, reports Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Neither the House nor the Senate included casino language in their proposed budget revisions, but Knight said last week that the budget adopted last June includes a provision that could be amended in conference committee negotiations over the revised spending plan. He included language in the budget compromise last year that blocked Richmond from having a second vote until after a study was completed of the financial viability of a casino in Petersburg.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission study, carried out last year, found having casinos in both cities could work, leading some lawmakers to discuss legislative changes to make six cities eligible for a casino referendum.