Senate bill would allow Petersburg voters to approve a casino

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Posted at 5:21 PM, Jan 26, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Central Virginia voters might get another chance to vote on a casino later this year: a bill being debated this week by a Virginia Senate subcommittee aims to bring a casino to Petersburg.

It comes a little more than a year after Richmond voters narrowly decided against one that would have gone on the city’s Southside.

A Senate gaming subcommittee discussed S.B. 780 Thursday afternoon.

It’s sponsored by Sen. Joe Morrissey and would add Petersburg to the list of Virginia cities eligible to host a casino. Voters have approved casinos in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth, where a casino opened this week.

If passed, Petersburg voters would get their say by casting a ballot in a referendum in the November state elections.

But the bill would also prevent Richmond from having another go. It contains a stipulation that any city that has already held a vote on a casino and is within 25 miles of an eligible city, must wait until that other city has had their vote within the year. Richmond in theory would have the chance to offer a referendum after 2023, but by then Petersburg's project could be on its way.

So that means no casino option for Richmond in 2023. And that has frustrated supporters of a Richmond do-over, including a contingent of Richmond City Council members who made their way to Senate Room 3 in the basement of the Capitol to have their say at the hearing.

But should it clear the committee, the Senate, and a companion bill does the same in the House of Delegates, and if the combined bill is signed by the governor, then it will be put to voters in Petersburg in November.

A VCU professor said this week that voters will have to assess if the $10 billion in revenue and 10,000 jobs, as promised by Mayor Sam Parham and Cordish, the developer, are too good to be true.

"We know that through many studies, that 80% of the jobs that are created by economic development projects, five years later, are no longer benefiting the individuals in the place where the economic development took place,” said Associate Professor Elsie Harper-Anderson, from VCU's Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “So for example, as far as the jobs, if people come in from outside and take the jobs, over time, it ends up not having the impact that most of the studies that have these huge multipliers project."

Harper-Anderson also pointed out that Petersburg’s current infrastructure and workforce might not be ready for such a project. “10,000 jobs is a huge number, considering that Petersburg's total employment is only 12,000,” said Harper-Anderson. “So another 10,000 jobs? I would really need to see the numbers on that."

"In addition to that, when you bring that much development, that much more traffic, there are other considerations. Is Petersburg ready to handle that level of additional traffic, and the additional security that's needed? In urban planning, and in economic development in particular, we always talk about that cities want to grow, grow, grow, but do they have the infrastructure in place to be able to handle that? So that's another question for Petersburg, where they have struggled with bringing in new jobs and that sort of thing in the past. Are they ready for that?”

Harper-Anderson points out that bringing in new revenue is always a great idea. “It represents growth, more jobs, more money, but in order for it to raise to the level of being ‘development,’ it has to increase the quality of life for the people who are there. And so I would like to hear more about that,” Harper-Anderson said.



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