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Virginia: Petersburg casino referendum bill gets preliminary House approval, passes on to final vote

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Petersburg’s casino referendum legislation is getting closer to a Virginia Senate showdown after the House of Delegates gave it preliminary approval Monday afternoon, passing the bill on to its final vote.

The final vote is expected on Tuesday, which is the deadline for the House and Senate to act on their own legislation before looking at bills from the other chamber. 

A large portion of the opposition to Del. Kim Taylor’s bill seems to come from Democrats, who have been blocking both Petersburg and its casino partner over due process and claims that the latter does not pay its union workers as well as it says it does, reports The Progress-Index.

Both were prickly points when its Senate companion bill failed by one vote last week in the Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee. However, unlike the state Senate, Republicans control the House, meaning Tuesday’s final vote is most likely to be favorable for Petersburg.

The bill would let Petersburg hold a referendum this November on the possibility of bringing a casino to the city’s Wagner Road area. It also would block Richmond, which is the only one of the original five cities tagged in 2020 to defeat a similar referendum, from carrying out a second ballot.

Rendering Urban One Casino, proposed to be located in Richmond.

Petersburg’s push for the casino is based on the economic impact the development would have on the region, but the city also argues that Richmond already has defeated its referendum, meaning it is now Petersburg’s turn to vote. 

Del. Kim Taylor said Monday on the House floor that the bill would allow Petersburg “to voice their choice,” and encouraged her colleagues to “support democracy and let the good people of Petersburg’s voices be heard,” Progress-Index reported. 

Del. Paul Krizek retorted: “There’s a lot of reasons to vote against this bill and only a couple of reasons to vote for it, and you just heard them,” and added that the issue has been “defying the odds by moving quite quickly” through the House despite Democrats’ concerns that Petersburg acted outside of the Virginia Public Procurement Act by not allowing the casino vendor to be chosen transparently.

Cordish Co.'s rendering for Petersburg.

In what has been referred to as an “interview process,” Petersburg hired a consultant to vet the businesses that had expressed interest in a city casino. That consultant, who resigned her contract a week before the General Assembly began, recommended Maryland developer The Cordish Companies be chosen. 

Cordish announced plans last December to build a $1.4 billion mixed-use development in south Petersburg that will be centerpieced by the 670,000-square foot Live! Hotel & Casino Virginia. If all the details are approved, the casino could open by 2027.

Krizek also took aim at Cordish, whose Maryland Live! casino in metropolitan Washington, D.C. is about 35 miles from the MGM National Harbor casino resort. He said the MGM wages are “almost double” what they are at the Cordish-owned casino.

“This is not the quality casinos that you’re seeing from Caesars or Hard Rock that pay their employees great wages and have great national reputations,” he said, and urged working out the transparency and wage issues. “If this is a great idea, it’ll be a great idea next year,” he added, as reported by the cited source. 

In response, Taylor said Cordish plans to bring jobs paying around $60,000 annually in wages to a city where the average yearly salary is slightly above $26,000, which she deemed as “an incredible opportunity” for the city of Petersburg and its residents. 

Del. Kim Taylor

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.

The two multi-million resorts are being touted as financial saviors to two areas hit hard by financial issues. A Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission study found last year 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.

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