Casino Expansion On Virginia's 2024 Legislative Agenda

January 10, 2024
As lawmakers return for Virginia’s 2024 legislative session on Wednesday, debate is set to resume on whether to clear the way for ballot referendums to determine if a fifth or even sixth casino is built.

As lawmakers return for Virginia’s 2024 legislative session on Wednesday (January 10), debate is set to resume on whether to clear the way for ballot referendums to determine if a fifth or even sixth casino is built.

Casino expansion garnered a significant amount of attention during last year’s session when two bills were filed that would have amended state law to allow a casino to be built in any locality that has a population of more than a million and operates under an urban county executive form of government.

That would open the door to a potential casino in Fairfax County, within the populous Washington, D.C. metro area.

Both bills were withdrawn by their sponsors, however, while a separate piece of legislation to allow for a referendum on a casino in the city of Petersburg near Richmond was defeated in committee. 

Senate Dave Marsden, a Democrat from Fairfax, told Vixio GamblingCompliance he will file another casino bill a little later in this year’s session once an exact location has been chosen for a potential casino-resort.

Marsden added that the preferred location for a commercial casino is currently Tysons, some 16 miles east of Washington, D.C.

Marsden and Republican House Delegate Wren Williams have been supportive of allowing Fairfax residents to vote on a casino proposal. Comstock Companies, a commercial real-estate developer, has also expressed interest in building a casino in northern Virginia.

Currently, MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, is the closest commercial casino to the nation’s capital.

Marsden said he expected MGM Resorts International “to lobby against the bill” to allow for a Fairfax County casino, in an effort to protect its investment just across the Potomac River.

“I’m trying to minimize future revenue problems,” Marsden told Vixio.

Marsden stressed that Virginia was losing $250m in potential tax revenue annually to the casinos in Maryland, at a time when commercial real estate continues to go down in value, hurting property tax revenue, and there is a $700m transit shortfall.

When asked if there was enough support in the senator’s district to pass a referendum, Max Shatzen, legislative director for Marsden, said that would not merely be determined by the district, but rather Fairfax County as a whole, which consists of all or parts of seven Senate districts.

“The immediate area will likely oppose the measure, but it is unknown as to the rest of the county at this time,” Shatzen said. “Senator Marsden suspects that the farther away someone lives from the proposed location, the more likely they will be to support it (and vice versa).”

On Monday (January 8), Virginia Delegate Paul Krizek, a Democrat, pre-filed House Bill 525 that would prohibit any city or municipality from holding another local casino referendum for three years from the date of the last failed referendum. The bill has not yet been assigned to a House committee.

Members of the General Assembly are also expected to consider another bill this session to allow voters in Petersburg to determine if the city will welcome a casino.

Democratic Senator Joe Morrissey introduced Senate Bill 780 last year to allow Cordish Companies to build a $1.4bn casino-resort in Petersburg if voters approved a referendum. The bill eventually was defeated by one vote by the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.

Morrissey had argued that Petersburg voters should be allowed to determine if there is support for a casino before Richmond got a second opportunity to consider its own project.

Voters in the state’s capital city initially rejected a casino referendum in 2021 by the narrow margin of 51 percent to 49 percent.

That defeat was followed by a second failed referendum on November 7, 2023, when voters in Richmond rejected a second referendum with more than 60 percent of votes cast opposing Urban One’s $562m Richmond Grand Casino & Resort in the south of the city.

Virginia’s General Assembly passed a law in 2020 to allow five designated cities around the state to hold a local referendum on casino gaming. Four of them — Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth — approved measures allowing casinos to be built. 

Currently, there are three operating casinos in Virginia. They are the Hard Rock in Bristol, Rivers Casino in Portsmouth and Caesars Virginia in Danville.

About two weeks after Richmond voters again made it clear they did not want to host a casino, the Petersburg City Council on November 21 adopted its legislative agenda for the 2024 state session, which included requesting approval to hold a casino referendum by November 2025.

Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham said state Senator Lashrecse Aird, a Democrat, had agreed to carry “our legislative agenda and is supportive of our legislative agenda as stated.” 

In their legislative agenda, city officials made it clear that as a “distressed locality, advancing a casino could provide significant economic relief.”

According to projections by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC), the proposed Petersburg casino could generate $204m in net gaming revenues each year. Petersburg would receive 6 percent of the revenue, equating to $12.24m.

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