Virginia ‘Casino Lady’ Sen. Louise Lucas Says State Has Enough Casinos, at Least for Now
Virginia Senate Pro Tempore L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) successfully championed legislation in 2020 that ended the state’s long prohibition of commercial casino gambling.
Dubbed the “Casino Lady” for her repeated attempts to allow slot machines and table games in the commonwealth, Lucas is taking a different approach in 2023. After four cities passed local referendums authorizing casinos in their towns, Lucas says the state should take a breath before further expanding gaming and qualifying additional cities to consider gaming initiatives.
Richmond residents were the only city to reject their casino opportunity created through Lucas’ 2020 gaming measure, which garnered bipartisan support in the state Senate and House of Delegates. Casinos are being built in Norfolk, Bristol, and Danville. Rivers Casino Portsmouth opened last month at a cost of $340 million.
Legislative efforts have since ensued to relocate Richmond’s unused gaming license south to nearby Petersburg. But Lucas believes the state should allow the casinos that have been approved to open first.
I say we start with these four and go from there,” Lucas told WAVY-TV.
Along with Rivers Portsmouth, Hard Rock Bristol has opened a temporary gaming space inside the former Bristol Mall. Hard Rock’s $400 million permanent resort is set to open next year.
Caesars Entertainment in Danville is set to open its temporary casino facility in July. Caesars is investing $650 million to build Caesars Virginia.
Finally, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is constructing a $500 million casino resort in Norfolk on the banks of the Elizabeth River called HeadWaters Resort & Casino. HeadWaters hopes to open its own provisional gaming space this year.
Lucas Seeks Pause
Lucas’ 2020 bill allowed cities that met certain economic hardships to mull casino undertakings. Petersburg did not meet the conditions, which included a population decline of at least 20% from 1990 to 2016, a minimum 20% poverty rate in 2017, and an unemployment rate of at least 5% in 2018.
State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), whose district encompasses much of Petersburg, has led the effort to qualify Petersburg as an eligible casino host. Morrissey, as well as Del. Kimberly Taylor (R-Dinwiddie) who introduced a similar bill this year to allow Petersburg a casino privilege, say Petersburg has faced similar economic struggles and that a casino there would benefit the entire capital region.
A feasibility study on the merits of allowing Petersburg to host a casino was conducted by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission. JLARC concluded that a casino in Petersburg would be profitable, and it still would be if a casino should one day come to Richmond.
But Petersburg’s preferred gaming developer, The Cordish Companies, says it’s only interested in investing $1.4 billion into an integrated casino resort in Petersburg if Richmond is prohibited from further considering a gaming development.
Morrissey’s 2023 legislative effort to designate Petersburg as a casino host failed last week in a Senate committee. But Taylor’s measure remains alive, though it faces steep odds of reaching Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk (R).
Taylor’s statute — House Bill 1373 — passed the House last week by a 49-44 vote. The bill has since been directed to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology.
Lucas says she’ll defer to the committee as to whether further discussion on the matter happens this year.
“We’ll leave it pretty much up to the committee to decide whether or not there is space for another casino,” she concluded.