Petersburg is once again throwing its support behind a casino referendum, this time focusing on the 2024 Virginia General Assembly. With influential backers and a revamped Senate Bill 628, the city seeks to redefine the criteria for the host city.

Led by Senator Lashrecse Aird and Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee chair Louise Lucas, the bill proposes significant changes to the host city requirements. It eliminates the population threshold and suggests adjustments to tax-exempted real estate and poverty rate criteria. Additionally, the bill mandates that the host city must have experienced an unemployment rate of at least 13% in 2020.

Petersburg’s unemployment rate in 2020 stood at 21.1%, aligning with the newly introduced criterion. The inclusion of such factors aims to tailor the bill to Petersburg’s unique circumstances and economic needs.

Senator Lucas, who previously opposed Petersburg’s casino ambitions, has thrown her support behind the latest effort. Her past reservations were influenced, in part, by the approach of Senator Joe Morrissey, whom Aird defeated in the Democratic primary last June. Her support significantly bolsters the casino’s chances this time around.

The push for a Petersburg casino has faced hurdles in recent years, with consecutive setbacks in the 2022 and 2023 legislative sessions. However, this year, Del. Kim Taylor has chosen to support Senate Bill 628 instead of introducing a separate House companion. She emphasized the importance of consolidating efforts and ensuring that voters have a voice in the matter.

The Aird-Lucas bill omits language favoring Native American tribes in Virginia, meaning Norfolk’s proposed HeadWaters Casino, supported by the Pamunkey tribe, will no longer receive preferred consideration.

The legislative journey for Senate Bill 628 mirrors past sessions, with hearings scheduled in the Senate General Laws & Technology Committee, chaired by Aird, and subsequently in Senate Finance & Appropriations, chaired by Lucas. Overall, Petersburg’s casino bid gains momentum in the 2024 Virginia General Assembly with the support of influential backers and strategic changes to the criteria for the host city.

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