Neighbors weigh pros and cons as Petersburg vies for shot at Virginia's 5th casino

Rondell Harris: 'For the people in Richmond, just come down to Petersburg. It’s not that far. It looks very antique-ish over here, so a new casino would liven the place up.'
Petersburg Casino
Posted at 1:41 PM, Nov 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-25 16:05:16-05

PETERSBURG, Va -- While Richmonders made it clear they don't want a casino, a gambling destination somewhere in Central Virginia may have just shifted about 20 miles south.

Petersburg now wants an official shot at becoming Virginia's fifth city to host a casino, causing mixed reaction from people CBS 6 spoke to in Old Towne on Friday.

“I feel like it would’ve been a great idea," said Rondell Harris.

"I'm really against it," said Tina Richardson.

Tina Richardson

This week, the Petersburg City Council adopted legislative priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session which included requesting approval to hold a casino referendum by 2025.

In a presentation by City Manager March Altman, he pointed to Petersburg's status as a distressed locality in need of economic relief.

"This venture could offer residents employment opportunities that surpass the current median household income of roughly $44,000 per year and individual income of about $26,000 per year. It is estimated that as many as 1,800 direct jobs could be created annually, along with up to 1,000 construction jobs," the presentation stated.

City spokesperson Joanne Williams said in a statement that a casino referendum, which would allow citizens to vote on an "entertainment center, hotel, restaurants, and retail" in addition to gambling, is a "top priority" in 2024.

"With a vote of approval by citizens, this entertainment complex will provide a much-needed economic boost to Petersburg’s flat tax base," Williams said.

Petersburg City Council

Richardson, a lifelong Petersburg resident, said she's been thinking about the pros and cons of a casino in her city ever since Richmond voted against a casino the first time around in 2021 and Petersburg officials advocated for a chance to host one instead.

“We need to get the crime down first," Richardson said.

Richardson said while she understands the city is in need of economic enhancement, she cited potential public safety concerns and said she disagreed that a casino referendum should be a prioritized issue.

“I think it'd be more dangerous, because we have too much going on right now as far as robbery and killing," Richardson said. “I mean, we need to focus on the kids, because we don't have anything here for the children.”

Rondell Harris

Meanwhile Harris, who was visiting a barber shop in Old Towne Friday, supported the efforts, citing "more job opportunities, more ways for people to make money."

Harris lives in Richmond and was disappointed when more than 60% of Richmond voters, for a second time, rejected Urban One and Churchill Down's $562 million dollar casino proposal, which was heavily endorsed and promoted by city leaders, in the 2023 referendum.

But he said he would still hop on I-95 for a quick trip down to Petersburg if citizens there approve a gambling destination.

“For the people in Richmond, just come down to Petersburg. It’s not that far," Harris said. “It looks very antique-ish over here, so a new casino would liven the place up.”

A 2022 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that a casino in Petersburg would generate $12 million in gaming revenue annually for the city. Altman's presentation said that revenue would be in addition to local taxes from real estate, sales, lodging, and meals.

In 2022, Petersburg selected the Cordish Group to develop a $1.4 billion dollar casino destination, located off the Wagner Road Exit of I-95, even before the city ever got approval from the state to hold a referendum.

With approval from state lawmakers, voters in Petersburg would ultimately have the final say.

The casino was one of six legislative priorities approved by the city. Other issues include infrastructure upgrades, completing the Appomattox River Trail, replacing the Oakhill Bridge, requesting more funding for public safety, and independent governance for Richard Bland College separate from the College of William and Mary.

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