Crucial final vote on Petersburg casino comes Tuesday in House of Delegates
RICHMOND — Petersburg's casino referendum legislation inched its way closer to a state Senate showdown after the House of Delegates gave it preliminary approval Monday afternoon.
What the House did Monday was "engross" the bill, or pass it on to its final vote. Engrossment is usually done by voice vote, and even though the nays tried to sound louder than the ayes, House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, ruled it to be engrossed.
The final vote will come Tuesday, which is the deadline for the House and Senate to act on its own legislation before looking at bills from the other chamber.
Most of the opposition to Del. Kim Taylor's bill seems to be coming from Democrats, who have been chastising both Petersburg and its casino partner over due process and claims that the casino partner does not pay its union workers as well as it claims to do. Both of those were prickly points when its Senate companion bill failed by one vote last week in the Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee.
More:Senate Finance kills Petersburg casino referendum, but sponsor says issue is not dead yet
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However, unlike the state Senate, Republicans control the House, and that all but guarantees that Tuesday's final vote will be favorable for Petersburg.
The bill would let Petersburg hold a referendum this November on the possibility of bringing a casino to the city's Wagner Road area. It also would block Richmond — the only one of the original five cities tagged in 2020 to defeat a similar referendum — from a redo of the 2021 campaign that saw it die by 1,500 votes.
Petersburg's push for the casino is based on the economic impact a casino development would have on the region, but it also has stated that Richmond already has defeated its referendum, and now it is Petersburg's turn to vote.
"This bill would allow Petersburg to voice their choice," Taylor, R-Dinwiddie County, said Monday on the House floor. She encouraged her colleagues to "support democracy and let the good people of Petersburg's voices be heard."
"There's a lot of reasons to vote against this bill and only a couple of reasons to vote for it, and you just heard them," Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax County, retorted. He said the issue has been "defying the odds by moving quite quickly" through the House despite Democrats' concerns that Petersburg acted outside of the Virginia Public Procurement Act by not allowing the casino vendor to be chosen transparently.
In what was referred to as an "interview process," Petersburg hired a consultant to vet the businesses who had expressed interest in a city casino. That consultant, who resigned her contract a week before the General Assembly began, recommended Maryland developer The Cordish Companies be chosen.
Cordish announced plans last December to build a $1.4 billion mixed-use development in south Petersburg that will be ceterpieced by the 670,000-square foot Live! Hotel & Casino Virginia. If all the details are approved, the casino could open by 2027.
Krizek also took aim at Cordish, whose Maryland Live! casino in metroplitan Washington, D.C. is about 35 miles from the MGM National Harbor casino resort. He said the MGM wages "are almost double" what they are at the Cordish-owned casino.
"This is not the quality casinos that you're seeing from Caesar's or Hard Rock that pay their employees great wages and have great national reputations," said Krizek, who urged more time be given to working out the transparency and wage issues.
"If this is a great idea, it'll be a great idea next year," he added.
In response, Taylor said Cordish plans to bring jobs paying around $60,000 annually in wages to a city where the average yearly salary is a hair more than $26,000.
"This is an incredible opportunity for the city of Petersburg and its residents," Taylor said.
Taylor's bill is Petersburg's last legislative hope for getting the casino. Shortly after the Senate Finance vote, rumors began circulating that a possible amendment could be inserted into the state budget that would allow for the referendum. Sunday's deadline for amendments came and went, however, with no word about the casino.
Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is an award-winning journalist who covers breaking news, government and politics. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @BAtkinson_PI.
This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Petersburg casino bill moves closer to final House passage