Unexpected opportunity

Virginia: Senator, city mayor seek to bring casino to Petersburg after Richmond rejection

Virginia Senator Joe Morrissey.
Reading time 2:05 min

Virginia state senator Joe Morrisey, Democrat, said Thursday he is drafting legislation to bring a casino to Petersburg. The bill would open the process for the city to possibly pick up the project that voters in Richmond rejected last week.

However, while the state senator is keen on going ahead with the efforts, the delegate-elect taking office in January is reserving judgment on it, reports The Progress-Index. Petersburg’s newest representative to the General Assembly, Kim Taylor, said she would wait to speak with city officials and residents on “potential concerns” about developing the venue.

The next step in the plans for a casino is the General Assembly, which would have to sign off the idea. Should it pass, then the Petersburg City Council would have to act on it and send it to city voters in a November referendum. Morrissey said the legislation is being drafted so that Senate General Laws will “get it early.”

In 2019, the legislature approved setting up casinos in five regions in the state: Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol. They all put the issue on a referendum on November 2. All regions approved it, except for Richmond: Morrissey said this opened up an opportunity for Petersburg.

According to a city spokesperson, Petersburg has already been approached by casino developers about setting up a venue. Morrissey said he would like to see major players checking out the city, and that the door is also open for Virginia’s Native American tribes.

Potential locations within Petersburg include the Wagner Road area off Interstate 95, on the south side of the city. This has been confirmed by the state senator as a possible site. He further said it would be about 70-80 acres of land, with visibility from Interstate 95.

Urban One, which pitched a $565 million casino in Richmond, could potentially present the project in Petersburg as well, although the company hasn’t confirmed it yet. As part of its Richmond proposal, Urban One promised a $25 million investment to the city as a kind of down payment. Morrisey says that, should this happen in Petersburg as well, this would help the city improve its aging infrastructure, further reports Progress-Index.

“If this happens, the infrastructure, the housing stock, stormwater runoff in the area drastically improves,” he said. “Jobs come into the area, people are employed. It’s just an economic engine, the likes of which we’ve never seen before in Petersburg.”

However, while Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham has gone on record supporting the proposal, as it would help “address some immediate needs,” Delegate-elect Kim Taylor said she was reserving judgement on the proposal due to unnamed “potential concerns” of setting up a gambling venue. She further said the issue required discussion with the City Council and constituents throughout Virginia’s 63rd House District.

Once the General Assembly convenes in January, Republicans are set to hold the edge over Democrats in the House of Delegates. Republicans will also control offices of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin has not yet shared his thoughts on casino gambling in Virginia.

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