Decisive 13-2 vote

Virginia Senate Committee rejects casino referendum for Tysons Corner

Reading time 1:36 min

In a decisive 13-2 vote on Tuesday, the Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee quashed a proposal that would have permitted Fairfax County to conduct a referendum on constructing a casino and conference center in Tysons Corner, a neighborhood near the nation’s capital known for its upscale retail and commercial ventures.

The committee's decision effectively halts the bill's progression for this year's legislative session but leaves room for potential reconsideration in the future. Rather than outright dismissal, the committee opted to defer the bill to 2025, offering a glimmer of hope to proponents of the casino initiative.

Sen. L. Louise Lucas, the committee's chairwoman and a vocal advocate for casino legislation, expressed a desire to keep the bill alive for further evaluation. She stated the importance for an updated research on the potential tax revenue that could be generated. She remarked this during an earlier subcommittee hearing, where she earned the moniker "casino queen" among her peers.

However, the prospect of a casino in Tysons Corner faced vehement opposition from various civic groups and lawmakers, who raised concerns about increased traffic congestion and crime rates. Sen. Jennifer Boysko, a staunch opponent of the casino proposal, emphasized the unsuitability of such an establishment in a prime commercial hub like Tysons Corner, traditionally favored by Fortune 500 companies.

Sen. David Marsden, the bill's sponsor, countered these objections by highlighting the need for Fairfax County to diversify its tax base, particularly in light of diminished demand for office space following the pandemic. Marsden underscored the importance of allowing county residents to collectively determine the viability of a casino through a referendum.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell underscored the potential fiscal benefits of the casino, suggesting that it could yield substantial tax revenue, translating to significant savings for county taxpayers.

Proponents of the casino initiative drew parallels with Maryland's successful MGM casino in National Harbor, emphasizing its reliance on patrons from northern Virginia. Despite the setback, casino opponents remain resolute in their stance. Connie Hartke of the Reston Citizens Association warned of escalating opposition should proponents revive the proposal in the future.

In a separate decision, the committee advanced legislation enabling Petersburg to hold a casino referendum, aligning with Virginia's 2020 vote to permit casinos in five cities, contingent upon public approval.

In addition to the casino referendum, the committee also considered a bill proposing online sports betting on college games involving Virginia-based teams, which was likewise deferred to 2025 for further deliberation.

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