Second Referendum on Proposed Richmond Casino Would Be Blocked by Senate Budget Allowing Potential Petersburg Casino Site

Richmond would not be able to conduct a second referendum on a proposed casino measure until the state is ready with a study of an alternative site of the initially proposed one under a provision of the budget that was officially adopted on February 20th by the Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee.

Under the budget provision, an independent consultant is set to be engaged by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to carry out a limited evaluation of the potential location and the revenues that may be produced from a casino venue in Petersburg. The independent consultant is also expected to assess the potential negative revenue impact on casinos situated in other cities that have been authorized as possible hosts of the planned casino expansion.

While the aforementioned review is underway, the city of Richmond would not be able to conduct another referendum until November 2023, on a revised proposal for the ONE Casino and Resort that was rejected by local voters in the fall of 2021.

Levar Stoney, Mayor of Richmond, shared he was disappointed with Senate Democrats for inserting a prohibition on the city of Richmond in the budget proposal they made. Still, he remained optimistic that the chambers could still work out something to allow Richmond to pursue the opportunity that could be a real game-changer for the local economy.

JLARC Review Expected to Evaluate New Potential Casino Location in Petersburg

Earlier in February, the Senate Finance Committee shelved a piece of legislation proposed by Senator Joe Morrissey that sought to add Petersburg to the five cities that were allowed to host a casino resort, subject to the approval of local voters. So far, voters have given the green light to the establishment of a casino in four cities – Danville, Norfolk, Bristol and Portsmouth – but Richmond voters rejected the proposed $565-million casino project of a joint venture consisting of Urban One and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment.

In January 2022, Richmond City Council voted to seek a second vote on the proposed casino expansion after Mayor Stoney and his allies in the council suggested that the proceeds of such a casino should be used to lower the real estate tax of the city by 2% per $100 of assessed value.

However, the city of Richmond has been blocked by Senator Morrissey’s bill from holding a second referendum on the matter for a period of 5 years, or until 2026.

Previously, Senator Morrissey shared that he was unaware of the reason why the finance committee decided to kill the proposed piece of legislation. He further noted that he was “guardedly optimistic” that the provision of the budget will be passed by the Senate during its upcoming vote on February 24th and the negotiations on the final budget with the House of Delegates.

The budget language has been supported by Senator Jennifer McClellan who believes that the proposal would give more time to the state to study and assess the potential for a casino establishment in Petersburg before the city of Richmond could go back and organize another referendum. As McClellan explained, the city of Petersburg is required to follow the same process that was followed by the other 5 cities so far, followed by Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC) review.

In 2019, the General Assembly ordered JLARC to study the potential casino sites in 5 cities under different scenarios. The Innovation Group was hired by the legislative regulatory body to conduct an independent probe on the matter. As a result, it was estimated that the proposed casinos in the 5 cities would generate gaming revenues of about $970 million annually, and $260 million for the state every year.