RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Petersburg’s pursuit of a $1.4 billion casino project appears doomed after a Virginia Senate panel voted not to advance a bill from state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond).
The city’s hopes of becoming eligible for a casino aren’t dashed yet, with a similar bill still alive in the Virginia House of Delegates, but the 7-8 vote from the Senate’s Finance and Appropriations Committee on Thursday suggests it is unlikely to pass.
If the bill from Del. Kim Taylor (R-Dinwiddie) is passed and signed into law, the legislation would let Petersburg voters decide whether to approve the $1.4 billion casino project from The Cordish Companies that the city has already signed off on.
When introducing his bill Thursday, Sen. Morrissey described Petersburg as a city on the rise that’s persevered through many challenges.
He noted the closure of Brown and Williamson’s tobacco plant, a major employer in the city, in the mid-1980s and more the recent economic distress Petersburg has faced. Since then, Morrissey said, Petersburg has continued to grow, including getting investments to bring pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs to the city.
Morrissey touted Cordish as the unquestioned preeminent casino and resort developer in the country, saying the company’s projects “reconfigure the fabric of a community” and claiming the $1.4 billion proposal would do the same for Petersburg.
“They [Petersburg] have done, I think, a remarkable job and this is the final piece of the puzzle that will revitalize that city,” Morrissey said about the proposed casino resort.
Morrissey said the proposed project would create 2,000 jobs for the area, bring Petersburg its first hotel in “several decades” and that Cordish would “build a city within a city” with 2,000 condominiums, a hotel with six polls, shops and a venue for live music.
State Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), co-chair of the committee, eventually asked Morrissey to “wrap it up.” A motion was made to advance the bill, which failed on a 7-8 vote. Four Democrats voted against moving the legislation forward.
Cordish’s COO Zed Smith, who has attended several hearings on the bills, declined to comment when asked by 8News for a response to Thursday’s vote. On Friday, a statement on behalf of Smith was provided to 8News.
“We will continue to work with local leaders and members of the General Assembly to bring a transformative urban revitalization project to Petersburg that will generate desperately-needed new jobs for Petersburg, along with substantial additional tax revenue for the City and Commonwealth,” Smith said in his statement.
Efforts to find Sen. Morrissey after the vote were unsuccessful and a spokesperson for him did not respond to a text seeking comment.
Legislation passed by the General Assembly making way for casino gambling allows five cities in Virginia to host their projects but requires them to ask voters to weigh in through a ballot referendum.
The vote by the Democratic-controlled state Senate committee could be a victory for the city of Richmond as it seeks to hold a second casino vote. But state Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate, indicated a preference to limit it to four casinos.
“We’ll leave it pretty much up to the committee to decide whether or not there is space for another casino but as I understand right now that the JLARC study does not indicate that there is the feasibility that will allow for it right now,” Sen. Lucas told 8News’ sister station WAVY.
As of now, approval of a Petersburg casino would block Richmond from getting another chance. Richmond’s first effort to bring a casino to the city’s Southside failed in 2021 by just under 1,500 votes.
According to the plan presented by Petersburg, the ‘Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia’ project would be built in multiple phases and include a casino, hotel, resort pool and center for events such as live music.
Update: This story was updated to include the statement from Cordish COO Zed Smith, which came after publication.