A Virginia casino study conducted by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) has found Petersburg suitable to become a host gaming town.
In 2020, Virginia authorized a single casino development in the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville. Each commercial gaming development required the local support of voters by way of a city ballot referendum. Voters in all localities, except Richmond, approved the casinos.
An effort has since been underway by the Richmond City Council to again ask residents about a casino. The local leaders, including Mayor Levar Stoney (D), hope a more coordinated message regarding the economic benefits of allowing a casino in the capital city will result in a different outcome. Richmond’s 2021 casino referendum was narrowly defeated by 51-49%.
While Richmond officials plan for a second gaming referendum, state Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Petersburg) is leading a legislative effort to reallocate Richmond’s casino opportunity to nearby Petersburg, just south of the capital.
The JLARC study released this week found that Petersburg would attract adequate gamblers should the town be allowed to open a casino property. JLARC estimates that a Petersburg casino would generate $204 million in gross gaming revenue in its first full year in operation. That would lead to almost $25 million in tax revenue, with about half remaining in Petersburg, plus the creation of approximately 1,300 permanent jobs.
Morrissey represents Petersburg and parts of Richmond, but he’s not in favor of re-asking Richmonders about a casino.
Richmond had their chance,” Morrissey said this week. “They had a referendum and the people spoke.”
JLARC took no formal position on whether allowing Petersburg to consider a casino is in the state and region’s best interests. Instead, the review commission investigated the financial performance of various theoretical casino scenarios.
If Richmond and Petersburg both open casinos, JLARC says the Richmond casino would be expected to generate about $250 million in annual gross gaming revenue (GGR). But the close competition would push the Petersburg casino’s annual GGR lower to around $140 million annually. If Richmond opens a casino but Petersburg does not, the capital casino would be projected to win more than $300 million off of gamblers a year.
JLARC was assisted by the Innovation Group, a gaming research and advisory firm, in forecasting GGR for the potential casinos.
2023 Legislative Showdown
Morrissey plans to reintroduce legislation to designate Petersburg as a qualifying casino city when the state General Assembly convenes in January 2023. Richmond’s local leaders are also expected to reinitiate their quest for a second casino referendum.
It’s pretty obvious this is going to be a major issue in the upcoming session,” said Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), who chairs both JLARC and the Senate Finance and Appropriation Committee. “It’s likely to be a brawl.”
Morrissey says two casinos aren’t feasible, despite JLARC saying both would be profitable.
“We want a destination resort in Petersburg. If there are two casinos 25 miles from each other, they would cannibalize each other,” Morrissey concluded.
The closest casinos in development to the Richmond-Petersburg area are the Portsmouth-Norfolk properties being built about 60 miles southeast. Morrissey has criticized the allowance of both Portsmouth and Norfolk building casinos, as the two cities neighbor one another in Hampton Roads.
The Pamunkey Indian Tribe and gaming billionaire Jon Yarbrough are partnering on a $500 million casino in Norfolk called HeadWaters Resort & Casino. Rivers Gaming has been approved to build a $300 million casino in Portsmouth called Rivers Casino Portsmouth.
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