After last week announcing plans for a proposed waterfront casino, a group of residents and legislators from the independent city of Portsmouth in the Commonwealth of Virginia made a trip to the southeastern state’s capital on Friday in support of casino legislation. And in the state that has for decades resisted casino gambling, on Monday, January 21, 2019, a Senate committee passed a bill that could see a handful of cities there pursue casino licenses two years from now, according to The Washington Post.
Co-sponsored by State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), a bill that would allow referendums to be held in the cities of Portsmouth, Bristol, Richmond, Norfolk and Danville to decide whether to pursue casino projects, passed 9-3-1 by the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology in the General Assembly on Monday.
A mash-up of several casino-related bills were rolled into the original measure from Lucas and were referred to the Senate Finance Committee to further discuss its regulatory and financial implications.
However, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam along with other lawmakers have communicated that they would prefer to hold off on major gambling legislation in order to allow time for the state to conduct a comprehensive study. The news agency further reports that casino backers have requested that the state allow their projects to proceed with haste so gambling dollars won’t continue to be lost to other states, such as neighboring Maryland.
Governor Northham has reportedly requested that the General Assembly establish such a study this year, The Washington Post reports.
Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne reportedly said the administration would keep an eye on the current bill, but noted that the legislation goes beyond what the governor said he was comfortable with.
“significant issues to deal with”
“I’m not saying the governor will be for it or against it — but it’s not a study,” Layne said after the vote. “It’s a big decision. The General Assembly ought to understand we have significant issues to deal with,” said Layne, according to the Post.
Portsmouth casino proposal:
Early last week, a proposal for a 140,000 square foot waterfront casino, including a first-class hotel and convention center to be located on a former Holiday Inn site, was announced by Portsmouth. The projected figures and the expected impact of the project, according to WAVY TV 10, include:
- Projections indicate 2,000-plus employees during year one of operations, growing to more than 5,200 full-time employees by the seventh year of operation.
- An estimated $52.1 million in annual local tax revenue after the seventh year of operation.
- By the seventh year of operation, all revenue streams are projected to bring a repeated yearly economic impact of $2.09 billion total for Virginia and $1.07 billion to Portsmouth.
While permission to pursue gaming has been sought by the cities of Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe has reportedly said that it is in pursuit of a federal process to secure a casino project, preferably in sites in Norfolk and Richmond.
According to WAVY TV 10, Chief Robert Gray (pictured, right) said…
“Right now we see it is a win-win for both us and Norfolk. It’s a fantastic location, with the river and the city and transportation right there. We see a benefit in Norfolk greatly and obviously a benefit to our tribe.”
However, not everyone agrees that bringing casino gambling to Virginia would be good for the state. Todd Gathje, a representative from non-profit, The Family Foundation, says that casino gambling won’t make good on its promises.
“Casino gambling acts like a regressive tax,” said Gathje. “It exploits those who can least afford to lose. It leads to more addictions at a time when alcohol and opioids are already causing great harm to individuals, families and communities,” according to WAVY TV 10.
In addition to allowing the five localities to begin holding referendums, per Monday’s bill, any state-legislature approved measure would still require voter approval before it could move forward. And no casino license could be issued by the Virginia Lottery board prior to July 1, 2020.