RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bill to allow Petersburg to hold a referendum for a casino and keep Richmond from holding another one for five years received unanimous bipartisan support from a Virginia Senate subcommittee.
The chamber’s gaming subcommittee, made up of five Democrats and four Republicans, agreed to move state Sen. Joe Morrissey’s legislation to the General Laws and Technology Committee on Thursday.
Petersburg’s current mayor, its previous mayor and other city representatives spoke in favor of the measure and a lobbyist for Richmond asked the panel to consider keeping a window open for the city.
Sen. Morrissey (D-Richmond) said he backed Richmond’s plans to bring the One Casino and Resort project to the South Side, but that the city’s voters rejected the effort.
“The people spoke. Over 1,500 was a margin, not a great one, but 1,500 said no they do not want the casino,” Morrissey said. “So we pivoted to Petersburg.”
Morrissey called Petersburg not only an iconic city in the area, but “an iconic American city.” He told the panel that he felt the original legislation to bring five casinos to Virginia was meant to help cities like Petersburg, pointing to a decrease in population, employment and economic concerns the city has faced.
Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham and other city leaders spoke about the need to improve school infrastructure and boost development in the city, saying they believed the expected tax revenue from a casino resort would help fund those efforts.
Morrissey, who noted that the heart of his district lies within Richmond’s South Side, said the casino effort “is the final piece of the puzzle” to bring Petersburg back to its “glory days.”
Ron Jordan, a lobbyist for the city of Richmond, asked the panel to vote against moving forward with Morrissey’s provision to ban cities that launched failed attempts from having another referendum on the ballot for five years.
When asked by the subcommittee about what he felt the city would do differently, Jordan said he felt the outreach effort wasn’t presented well enough for voters to understand the economic benefits of a casino. Jordan said he seriously doubted that Richmond would seek another casino bid if voters rejected the effort a second time.
The Richmond City Council approved plans to have a second casino vote on Jan. 24 and council members and Mayor Levar Stoney are proposing a 2-cent reduction to the city’s real estate tax if voters ultimately pass the referendum. Richmond’s first effort to bring the One Casino and Resort project failed in November by just under 1,500 votes.
“But now they want a do-over and essentially it says ‘well, we lost, let’s have a do-over.’ And if they lose again, how about another do-over and another one,” Morrissey said Thursday. “That’s not the way the democratic process works.”
The subcommittee reported the bill out on a voice vote without any opposition to the motion.