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Petersburg Casino Referendum For 2024 Might Come Down To VA Budget Deal

Written By Derek Helling on March 14, 2024
louise lucas waving

As it currently stands, voters in Petersburg, Virginia, will not be deciding on whether to allow a brick-and-mortar casino in their city in November 2024. That could change, however, and quickly.

Legislation toward that end could be part of a potential special session of the Virginia legislature should Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin call for it. Negotiations between Youngkin and the legislature on the state’s budget for the next two years might prompt such a call.

In turn, the success of those negotiations might have a significant influence on whether the casino bill is part of the session’s agenda and whether Youngkin acts on the bill if it reaches his desk.

Virginia casino bill, SB 628, languishes in legislative purgatory

Virginia casino gaming bill SB 628 is the key to unlocking a vote on casino gaming in Petersburg in 2024. While both chambers of the Virginia legislature approved the bill, they turned their keys too late.

The concurrence from the House of Delegates didn’t come until March 7, past the state’s deadline for sending legislation to Youngkin’s desk for the regular session. The Virginia legislature formally wrapped that session on March 9.

However, that late approval means the bill carries over to the next regular session in 2025. There is a possibility for more expedient action on the legislation.

The governor in Virginia, like in many other states, can call the legislature into a special session that would start in April. It’s possible that the legislature could consider SB 628 again and forward it to Youngkin’s desk during that time.

From there, the normal process would ensue. Youngkin could either sign the bill, veto it, or simply do nothing and let it pass into law by his inaction. While Youngkin has not publicly commented on the issue or the bill, he might have other priorities.

Those matters that could be more pertinent may result in Petersburg’s casino referendum being either ignored or used for leverage.

Budget deal likely to be the focus of a potential special session

According to Ben Finley and Denise Lavoie of the Associated Press, the budget bill that the Virginia legislature sent to Youngkin before the regular session concluded excludes several of the governor’s priorities. Chief among those is a funding measure for a sports arena in Alexandria.

Youngkin was critical of leaving that measure out of the state’s budget for the next two years. Regarding that issue and other matters, Youngkin expressed that the budget “needs a lot of work.”

That work could be exactly what prompts Youngkin to call for the special session. A key figure in that session will be Virginia Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, who has also been called the “Casino Lady.”

Lucas was among the sponsors of SB 628 and could use her Senate leadership to push for its inclusion in the special session along with its passage. It’s also possible that the budget negotiations may dominate the special session to the point that all other matters are pushed out.

VA budget conversation may turn casino bill into a bargaining chip

Lucas was among the most adamant voices in opposition to the Alexandria arena funding. On that issue, she was directly at odds with Youngkin.

Thus, it’s possible that Youngkin could withhold support for SB 628 unless Lucas and the legislature concede to his wishes in the Alexandria arena. To be clear, Youngkin has not signaled any intent to do so. Additionally, there are other bills that Lucas supported which Youngkin could choose to make his stand on.

Should Youngkin choose SB 628 for his leverage, though, Virginians could find out just how strongly Lucas feels about a casino referendum in Petersburg happening in November 2024. If she remains steadfast in her opposition to the arena funding, SB 628 might see no further action until 2025.

Photo by AP Photo/Steve Helber
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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