The Petersburg casino legislation: What we know as we track it through the General Assembly

RICHMOND — This week promises to be possibly make-or-break time for Petersburg's chances of landing a casino resort in the city. Committees in both the House of Delegates and state Senate are expected to take up legislation that would allow Petersburg to hold a referendum in November on whether legalized gambling can be brought to the city.

Four other cities in Virginia have passed similar referendums, and in two of those cities — Bristol and Portmouth — the casinos are up and running. A fifth city, Richmond, rejected its referendum 14 months ago, and that is when Petersburg launched its casino candidacy.

Here is a primer on where we have been in the 2023 legislative process concerning the legislation:

What are the bills and who is sponsoring them?

Senate Bill 780 and House Bill 1373 are being sponsored respectively by Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Chesterfield, and Del. Kim Taylor, R-Dinwiddie. They are identically worded.

Just what does the legislation say?

The legislation adds Petersburg to the list of cities eligible to host a casino in Virginia. It also says that "when an eligible host city is located within 25 miles of another eligible host city, the governing body of any such city that holds a local referendum on the question of whether casino gaming should be permitted in such city that subsequently fails, shall be prohibited from holding another local referendum on the same question until the other eligible host city has had a reasonable opportunity, not to exceed the date of the 2023 regular general election."

Let's translate: Richmond, the "another eligible host city" mentioned in the bill, tried and failed to pass its own referendum about bringing a casino to the city's southside. Therefore, if this legislation passes, that blocks Richmond from holding another referedum as the city wants to do until after Petersburg holds its referendum.

For the mileage counters out there, Petersburg and Richmond are roughly 23 miles away from each other.

What has happened on it so far?

The gaming subcommittee of the Senate General Laws & Technology Committee voted 7-2 Thursday to recommend that its parent panel "report the bill out," essentially green-lighting it for the next round of legislative action.

More:Senate subcommittee sides with Petersburg on casino referendum legislation

The entire Senate GLT Committee is expected to vote on the legislation at its meeting Wednesday afternoon. However, there is an impact statement attached to the bill, which usually means it has to go before the Senate Finance & Appropriations Commiittee for signoff before the entire Senate gets a crack at it.

Over in the House, the gaming subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee is expected to deliberate the bill Tuesday afternoon. That panel will make its recommendation to either pass or kill the bill to the full General Laws committee Thursday afternoon. The House bill also has an impact statement, so the House Appropriations could get to look at it before the House chamber does.

In short, we will have a clearer picture of the issue's future by the end of this week.

Why is Petersburg supporting it and Richmond opposing it?

For the obvious reasons. Petersburg is touting the economic benefit that could come from having a casino here. The Cordish Companies, a Maryland-based urban-planning company, wants to build a $1.4 billion multi-use development off Wagner Road that would be centerpieced by a 600,000-square foot Live! Hotel & Casino that could bring as many as 4,000 new jobs to Petersburg. Within the next 10-15 years, the company projects up to 10,000 more jobs would be created as a result of the entire development.

Richmond wants another bite at the apple, claiming that misinformation about the $565 million One Casino + Resort doomed it in the November 2021 referendum. The south Richmond district in which media company Urban One wanted to build the casino is home to much of Richmond's low-income population, and its leaders were banking on the One Casino to boost its economy and its spirits.

A Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission-sponsored study on Petersburg's casino dreams was very favorable to the city, but it also stated that having casinos in both cities would be even more of an economic boost to central Virginia. Richmond is trying to hang its hat on that part of the report, but Petersburg is adamantly opposed to dueling casinos. Cordish, which lost out to Urban One in the bid to become Richmond's vendor, has already said if both Richmond and Petersburg get referendum approval, it would pull out of the Petersburg plan.

More:Petersburg lauds report about casino viability, uninterested in combo with Richmond site

What are its odds of getting through?

More likely than not. Morrissey's bill received bipartisan support in the Senate GLT subcommittee Thursday night, and one senator's comment about a possible Richmond redo may have red-flagged Richmond's major argument. Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg, claimed it was a fact in politics that the votes do not always go as one hoped they would, "but we live with the results of that election." He said he supported Petersburg's referendum.

Then again, this is the Virginia General Assembly where anything can happen. Last-minute moves are often common-place there, so one thing we have learned from years of watching is to expect the unexpected.

Last year, the Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee outright killed Morrissey's legislation, saying there was not enough fiscal data to prove the city could host it. That, though, prompted the budget amendment calling for the JLARC study and postponing a Richmond re-vote until after the study was received and the new legislation drafted.

And that brings us to where we are now.

Over in the House, we are basically in uncharted terrority. Taylor's 2022 legislation for the Petersburg casino got left in House General Laws but only after Senate Finance killed the Morrissey bill. With the first Senate hurdle of the 2023 bill cleared without major amendment, the chances that this year's House version will see the light of day on a vote are improved.

Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is an award-winning journalist who covers breaking news, government and politics. Reach him at or on Twitter at @BAtkinson_PI.

This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: The Petersburg casino legislation and what we know thus far