Feb 6, 2023 - Politics

Richmond-Petersburg casino fight a toss-up at session’s midway point

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The battle over casino rights between Richmond and Petersburg is still squarely in toss-up territory halfway through the General Assembly's 2023 session.

Why it matters: Leaders in Richmond desperately want to hold a second casino referendum after voters rejected their first effort.

  • Meanwhile, Petersburg officials argue they deserve a crack at what they’ve pitched as a major economic development project.

State of play: At this point, neither side has a clear advantage.

  • The House of Delegates advanced legislation backed by Petersburg that would block Richmond from holding a second referendum.
  • Meanwhile, the Senate rejected the same bill, with some key lawmakers arguing Richmond voters should get another shot.

What they’re saying: Petersburg's chief advocate in the legislature, Sen. Joe Morrissey, called it "the final piece of the puzzle that will help revitalize the city."

The other side: Richmond has a powerful ally on its side in the Senate, Finance Chair Janet Howell, who says she opposes the proliferation of casinos beyond the five originally sanctioned by the legislature in 2020.

  • "I support another Richmond attempt, and then I think that should be it. Period," she told Axios.

Between the lines: Petersburg faced a major setback when the Senate Finance Committee voted down the measure last week.

  • But it still has a few things going in its favor, including a Republican sponsor ushering the bill through the GOP-controlled House.
  • And when the House version gets back to the Senate, it could win back some of the Republican votes it lost last week over the Senate’s decision to include pro-union language.

Worth noting: Richmond's official stance is that both it and Petersburg should be allowed to move forward with casino projects, but developers behind the Petersburg project say they can only move forward if they are the sole licensee in the region.

What’s next: Expect more twists and turns.

  • This is the kind of legislative debate that won’t be resolved until the final days of the legislative session.

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