VA: Push is On To Bring Casino to Petersburg

Petersburg and Richmond vow to fight to bring a casino to their town, like it’s a magical elixir. Petersburg (l.) wants the license because Richmond voters said no, and Richmond wants a do-over referendum.

The Virginia General Assembly is sending money to help with Petersburg’s bid to get a gaming license to host a casino in the state budget.

“We had to fight through over 23 lobbyists that the city of Richmond hired to try and defeat this budget amendment,” said Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham.

“They’ve already done a preliminary report that Petersburg meets all of the markers for a host casino city,” State Senator Joe Morrissey said.

Meanwhile, Richmond officials aren’t sitting by and letting the casino slip through its fingers and into Petersburg’s hands. Richmond officials and the developer of the proposed casino said the language included in the state budget is unlawful, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Another provision in the budget bars a second Richmond referendum vote until 2023. The vote last November lost by a slim margin.

City officials and Urban One Inc., the national media company tapped to build a casino resort, might file a lawsuit to put the question on the ballot again this fall.

Richmond Circuit Court approved a new vote and “pre-certification” from the Virginia Lottery.

“This retroactive budget language seeks to unconstitutionally invalidate a final Court Order and inappropriately constrain the Virginia Lottery in fulfilling its regulatory authority in the same manner as it has done for other casinos,” the statement reads.

The budget bill says Richmond cannot hold a second vote until completion of a feasibility study on Petersburg.

“We’re disappointed the Virginia General Assembly has amended the state budget in a way that will deliberately harm the city of Richmond by denying economic opportunities for its residents,” said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. “We are still assessing our legal options but remain firm in our belief that the citizens of Richmond should not be disenfranchised just months before they would have the opportunity to vote.”

In January, Morrissey said he will bring legislation designating Petersburg as a casino host.

“So, the [Richmond] mayor if he is desirous and wants to fight in court, fine. It wouldn’t be the first time that he’s wasted city of Richmond funds to fight a losing battle,” said Morrissey, who lost to Stoney in Richmond’s 2016 mayoral election.

The city selected Urban One for the referendum last year after soliciting multiple bids for the project. Officials said the proposed One Casino and Resort would generate $30 million in annual tax revenue and create 1,500 jobs. The deal also included an agreement that the Maryland-based media company would immediately pay the city $25 million if voters approved the ballot measure.

After it failed to pass last year, Stoney and other officials have sought to retry the vote. In an attempt to sway voters, the mayor and other officials have floated a plan to reduce the city’s real estate tax rate by 2 percent if the project passes this fall.

“This is about transforming the city of Petersburg, and for our love and our passion of our city, and what we want it to look like for many decades to come,” said Parham, who joined Morrissey at the Petersburg library Thursday.

“It is time for you to move on,” Morrissey said in a message to Richmond leaders. “The benefits of a casino to Petersburg far, far outweigh the benefits to Richmond. I am confident that the governor fully supports a casino coming to Petersburg.”