A bill that would allow the Virginia city of Petersburg to hold a referendum on a casino and prevent Richmond from conducting one for five more years was unanimously supported by a Virginia Senate Subcommittee.
Five Democrats and four Republicans made up the chamber’s gaming subcommittee agreed to send state senator Joe Morrissey’s legislation to the General Laws and Technology Committee Thursday, according to local ABC News affiliate 8News. If the measure makes it all the way to the top, Richmond won’t be able to request a new casino referendum for five years.
Richmond Facing Uphill Climb with Casino Effort
The approval of the bill comes only days after Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney tried to drum up more public support for the referendum. He offered a tax cut of 2% on real property taxes as an incentive to local residents. The Richmond City Council approved the return of the referendum on the ballot; however, state lawmakers are going to prevent it from appearing through their new measure.
The measure was supported by Petersburg’s current and former mayors, as well as other representatives of the city. A lobbyist for Richmond also asked the panel to keep a window open for the city. Senator Morrissey stated that he supported Richmond’s plans for bringing the One Casino and Resort to the South Side. However, the city’s residents rejected the plan.
He asserts, “The people spoke. Over 1,500 was a margin, not a great one, but 1,500 said no, they do not want the casino. So, we pivoted to Petersburg.”
Petersburg Set to Get a Shot
Morrissey described Petersburg as an “iconic American city.” He explained that the original legislation to bring five casinos to Virginia was intended to aid cities like Petersburg. It’s a response to the fact that the city has experienced a decline in population, employment, and economic problems.
Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham spoke with other leaders about the need for school infrastructure improvements and to boost development. He stated that they believed that the anticipated tax revenue from a new casino would be used to fund these efforts.
Ron Jordan, a Richmond lobbyist, asked the panel not to vote for Morrissey’s provision to prohibit cities that launch failed attempts to have another referendum on the ballot for five more years.
Jordan stated that he didn’t feel the outreach effort was sufficiently clear for voters to grasp the economic benefits of a city casino. Jordan stated that he was skeptical that Richmond would pursue another bid for a casino if the attempt were rejected by voters again.
Morrissey added, “But now [Richmond leaders] 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. That’s not the way the democratic process works.”