If it feels like history is repeating itself in the world of Virginia casinos, it is.
A referendum vote to bring a casino to Richmond, one of five cities allowed by law to have a casino, failed for the second time in three years. And now, also for the second time in two years, officials in Petersburg, Virginia, have announced their intention to let the city’s voters decide if they want a casino.
How we got to a second push for a Petersburg casino
Virginia law allows casinos in five economically disadvantaged cities—Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Richmond—provided voters approve the casino through a referendum.
Voters in the first four cities in that list either have permanent or temporary casinos open. Richmond voters, however, shot down two attempts to bring a casino to the capital city.
The vote was 51% for and 49% against in 2021, a margin of less than 2,000 votes. While the razor-thin loss was a heartbreaker for casino developer Urban ONE, city leaders in Petersburg saw it as an opportunity.
The city partnered with well-known casino developer The Cordish Companies to draw up sparkling casino plans. With a vision for a gaming property set, Petersburg leaders pitched a casino vote to the state’s general assembly.
With an L in their back pocket, city leaders eased off their call for a casino vote and watched eagerly as Richmond announced it would hold a second referendum.
Despite more spending and community dialogue the second time around, Richmond’s referendum vote earlier this month failed 58% to 42%.
Petersburg wastes no time making its casino intentions clear
Less than three weeks after the failed Richmond vote, Petersburg City Manager March Altman pitched the referendum vote, according to a story by 6 News Richmond.
Altman noted that the city’s median household income is $44,000 per year, a figure that represents the economic distress the city is under.
Bringing a casino to Petersburg would be a lifeline for the local economy, generating more than 2,700 temporary and permanent jobs in the area, 6 News noted.
Will Petersburg be successful this time?
It’s hard to imagine that Virginia lawmakers would not, at the very least, give serious thought to Petersburg’s pitch.
Richmond has struck out twice, losing by nearly ten times the votes the second time around as it did the first. The idea of a Richmond casino is all but dead.
Petersburg, however, is injecting life into the casino conversation. City leaders have been persistent in their call for a referendum vote, and they garnered the interest of a well-known developer.
Additionally, the city’s proximity to Richmond means that the economic benefits of a casino could very well carry into Richmond via employment. These factors are certainly enough for lawmakers to consider, and we could get a decision by next summer.