Senate Bill 628 Overhaul Gains Support for Petersburg Casino Referendum

Petersburg is once again making a push for a casino referendum, this time taking the issue to the 2024 Virginia General Assembly. The city has garnered support from influential backers and has revamped Senate Bill 628 in an effort to redefine the criteria for the host city.

The bill, which is being championed by Sen. Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg and Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee chair Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, proposes significant changes to the host city requirements. The population threshold is being discarded, and adjustments to tax-exempted real estate and poverty rate criteria are being proposed. Additionally, a new stipulation mandates that the host city must have experienced an unemployment rate of at least 13% in 2020.

In 2020, Petersburg’s unemployment rate was 21.1%, aligning seamlessly with the newly introduced criterion. These factors are being included to tailor the bill to Petersburg’s unique circumstances and economic needs.

Sen. Lucas, who had previously opposed Petersburg’s casino ambitions, has surprisingly thrown her support behind the latest effort. Her backing significantly boosts the casino’s chances of success. Lucas had been a formidable obstacle in the prior two legislative sessions but has now changed her stance. She represents the district encompassing Rivers Casino in Portsmouth, one of the three operational casinos in the state.

The push for a casino in Petersburg has faced setbacks in previous years, but this time, Del. Kim Taylor of Dinwiddie County has opted to lend her support to Senate Bill 628 instead of introducing a separate House companion. This consolidated effort is seen as a way to focus energies on one bill. The legislative journey for Senate Bill 628 mirrors past sessions, with hearings scheduled in the Senate General Laws & Technology Committee, chaired by Aird, and subsequently in Senate Finance & Appropriations, chaired by Lucas.

In a departure from previous proposals, the Aird-Lucas bill omits language favoring Native American tribes in Virginia. This means that Norfolk’s proposed HeadWaters Casino, which was supported by the Pamunkey tribe, will no longer receive preferred consideration. This new bill is seen as gaining momentum for Petersburg’s casino bid and aims to address the city’s economic needs and unique circumstances.