RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Petersburg’s pursuit of a $1.4 billion casino project cleared a hurdle Thursday after a Virginia Senate subcommittee recommended it move forward.
Several speakers in support and opposition of the legislation from state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), including representatives from Petersburg, the city of Richmond and the casino developer picked by Petersburg, spoke Thursday during the state Senate’s General Laws and Technology gaming subcommittee.
Sen. Morrissey’s bill would add Petersburg to the list of eligible cities for a casino referendum so city residents would decide whether it would be built.
The legislation would also prevent Richmond from holding a second vote until Petersburg “has had a reasonable opportunity” for its own.
Morrissey told the subcommittee when introducing his bill that it would be transformational for “one of the most iconic cities in the United States” and help address Petersburg’s economic needs with the tax revenue it would generate. He said it would help with job growth and increase funding for public schools in the city.
Petersburg residents spoke in favor and opposition of the bill, with some sharing doubts about the proposed project’s economic benefits and others saying it would be the boost the city needs.
Concerns were raised about the process Petersburg utilized when picking casino operator Cordish Companies, with city representatives telling the panel that a third-party consultant reviewed proposals from seven developers and came to the City Council with a recommendation.
According to the plan presented by the city, the ‘Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia’ project would be in multiple phases and include a casino, hotel, resort pool and center for events such as live music.
Richmond’s first effort to bring a casino to the city’s Southside failed in 2021 by just under 1,500 votes. Lawmakers on the subcommittee asked Richmond City Council members who attended Thursday’s hearing how the second effort would be different.
Richmond City Council member Cynthia Newbille said there were a combination of factors that led to the vote, saying it was “not sufficiently vetted” to give residents clarity on the project.
Morrissey disputed that claim, saying that backers of a Richmond casino far outspent those who opposed the move.
The recommendation for approval doesn’t guarantee the bill will advance to the Senate floor, it only moves the legislation to the full General Laws and Technology Committee for a formal vote.