Referendum could take place this year

Virginia: Petersburg added to the list of eligible places for a casino

Reading time 1:59 min

Virginia's city of Petersburg has been added to the list of places eligible for a casino after Governor Glenn Youngkin accepted the move on Wednesday. SB 628, sponsored by Senator Lashrecse Aird, was passed 80-19 with an amendment that removes the reenactment clause. This means the General Assembly opened a path for residents to vote on a referendum to have casino gaming in the city as soon as this November.

SB 628 replaces Richmond with Petersburg among Virginia cities eligible to host a casino following approval by voters on a ballot. An earlier version of the bill had required a second General Assembly vote in 2025 before the law could take effect, but Youngkin removed that section of the measure this spring. On Wednesday, both legislative bodies passed Youngkin’s version.

The Virginia State Senate passed the amended bill 32-8 on Wednesday afternoon, moving it to the House of Delegates for consideration. Because the House of Delegates had added the reenactment clause to the earlier measure, the bill’s fate was slightly less certain in that body, but the bill still passed 80-19 in the House.

"After two previous failed attempts, in my first Senate session, the General Assembly has officially given its support to allow the citizens of Petersburg to have a referendum vote on a casino," Aird said in a statement Wednesday, as reported by Virginia Business.

"I made a promise to give my community this opportunity, and today I delivered on that promise. While voters will have the final say on whether a casino becomes a reality, this legislation has the potential for multimillion-dollar economic investment to be made in a community that both needs and truly deserves it," she added.

Senator Lashrecse Aird

It should be noted that Petersburg's city council, the Virginia Lottery Board, and the Petersburg Circuit Court must also approve adding the referendum to the 2024 local ballot. However, those are largely administrative tasks that are not expected to affect the referendum's progress to voters. 

Leaders in support of this project believe this will be positive for the people of Petersburg. Bruce Smith, a Virginia Beach developer and NFL Hall of Fame member who is partnering with Cordish Cos., has been outspoken about the legislative obstacle, calling for House Speaker Don Scott to pass Youngkin’s amended version of the bill in recent interviews. 

Bally’s, Cordish Cos., Penn Entertainment, Rush Street Gaming, and The Warrenton Group are the five contenders in Petersburg, and Aird hosted a town hall on Sunday at which representatives of the development teams presented details of their proposed casino resorts.

In 2020, the state legalized commercial casinos to be built in five economically underserved cities: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Richmond. The first four cities passed casino referendums easily in 2020, but Richmonders voted down casino referendums in 2021 and 2023.

Petersburg’s process would be similar to the other cities’ processes, requiring the city council to choose a casino operator and a city referendum to win for the plan to move forward.

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