Petersburg’s Casino Referendum Gains Traction with Senate Bill 628 Overhaul

Petersburg is once again placing its bet on a casino referendum, now landing on the legislative floor of the 2024 Virginia General Assembly. This time, the city is armed with influential backers and a revamped Senate Bill 628, seeking to redefine the criteria for the host city.

Senators Aird and Lucas Spearhead Key Changes in Casino Bill

While not explicitly earmarking Petersburg as the fifth casino host city, the bill, championed by newly appointed Sen. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, and Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee chair Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, proposes significant amendments to the host city requirements, reported The Progres lol646 s-Index. 

Notably, the population threshold is discarded, and adjustments to tax-exempted real estate and poverty rate criteria are proposed. Additionally, a new stipulation mandates that the host city must have experienced an unemployment rate of at least 13% in 2020.

In 2020, Petersburg’s unemployment rate stood at a staggering 21.1%, aligning seamlessly with the newly introduced criterion. The inclusion of such factors aims to tailor the bill to Petersburg’s unique circumstances and economic needs.

Sen. Lucas, who previously opposed Petersburg’s casino ambitions, has surprisingly thrown her weight behind the latest effort. In an unexpected turn, she acknowledged that her past reservations were influenced, in part, by the approach of Sen. Joe Morrissey, whom Aird defeated in the Democratic primary last June.

Lucas, who chairs the influential Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee, had been a formidable obstacle in the prior two legislative sessions. Her support this time around significantly bolsters the casino’s chances. Lucas represents the district encompassing Rivers Casino in Portsmouth, one of the three operational casinos in the state.

Petersburg’s Casino Bid Gains Momentum After Facing Hurdles

The push for a Petersburg casino has been a recurring theme in recent years. Following Richmond’s rejection in 2021, Petersburg eagerly stepped into the fray but faced consecutive setbacks in the 2022 and 2023 legislative sessions. Morrissey and Del. Kim Taylor, R-Dinwiddie County, championed the cause unsuccessfully.

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This year, Taylor has opted to lend her support to Senate Bill 628 rather than introducing a separate House companion. She emphasized the significance of consolidating efforts and conveyed that having a single introductory bill enables energies to be concentrated in one place on one bill. Taylor affirmed her commitment to ensuring that voters in the 82nd District have a voice in the matter.

The legislative journey for Senate Bill 628 mirrors past sessions, with hearings scheduled in the Senate General Laws & Technology Committee, chaired by Aird, and subsequently in Senate Finance & Appropriations, chaired by Lucas.

In a departure from previous proposals, the Aird-Lucas bill omits language favoring Native American tribes in Virginia. Norfolk‘s proposed HeadWaters Casino, supported by the Pamunkey tribe, will no longer receive preferred consideration.