Bipartisan support

Viriginia Senate panel backs bill to bring casino to Petersburg, block Richmond from re-voting

Virginia Senator Joe Morrissey.
2022-01-28
United States
Reading time 2:16 min

A bill seeking to allow Petersburg to hold a referendum for a casino, while keeping Richmond from holding another referendum on the issue for five years, has received unanimous bipartisan support from a Virginia Senate subcommittee, local media reports.

The chamber’s gaming subcommittee agreed on Thursday to move legislation presented by state Sen. Joe Morrissey to the General Laws and Technology Committee, according to WRIC. Petersburg’s current mayor, along with other city officials, showed support to the measure, while a lobbyist for Richmond asked the panel to keep a window open for the city.

A referendum to bring the Urban ONE casino project to Richmond was narrowly voted down in 2021, with the proposal falling through on a margin of 49% to 51%, by about 1,500 votes. Voters in other chosen Virginia cities passed casino referendums in 2020, including Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth and Norfolk: only Richmond rejected the proposition.

Following Richmond’s rejection of the project, Petersburg introduced gambling referendum legislation to bring the casino to the city, while also seeking to bar Richmond from re-voting on the matter for the next five years. Sen. Morrissey, who originally backed the plan to bring One Casino to Richmond, said the city already had its chance.

“The people spoke. Over 1,500 was a margin, not a great one, but 1,500 said no they do not want the casino,” he said, according to the cited source. “So we pivoted to Petersburg.” Morrissey described Petersburg as “an iconic American city,” and said the casino project would help address concerns including a decrease in population, employment and economy.

Should Morrissey’s bill pass, it would bring to an end Richmond plans to re-vote on the matter. Earlier this week, the Richmond City Council voted to pursue the failed project a second time. One resolution and two ordinances seeking to revive the development were passed on Monday night, in an attempt to bring the referendum back on the ballot in November.

The efforts to pursue the casino project once again were spearheaded by Councilwoman Reva Trammell, who was met with support from most of her colleagues, Urban ONE CEO Alfred Liggins, and members of the community.

The General Laws and Technology subcommittee agreed on Thursday to amend Morrissey's bill to specify that any locality where a gambling referendum has failed would not be allowed to revote on it for another five years, explains The Progress-Index. The legislation as originally introduced would have set the moratorium on any future efforts to cast new ballots.

Should the General Assembly now choose to pass the measure and Gov. Glenn Youngkin sign it, the Richmond City Council decision to schedule a new referendum would be rendered moot. Richmond lobbyist Ron Jordan said the city will oppose the bill, while a spokesperson for Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said the mayor also disapproved of the legislation.

“They want a do-over and essentially it says ‘well, we lost, let’s have a do-over.’ And if they lose again, how about another do-over and another one,” Morrissey criticized Thursday, according to WRIC. “That’s not the way the democratic process works.”

Supporters for the Richmond casino, including Urban ONE CEO Alfred Liggins, said that, should the referendum be held once again, it would pass. According to the executive, many Richmonders were confused about where the money from the project would be going, leading to the referendum dying due to misinformation.

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