Northern Virginia Casino Bill Fails in State Senate Committee

Quick Intro

A Senate committee in Virginia has recently declined a proposal that would have paved the way for a public vote on establishing a casino in the affluent suburbs surrounding the nation’s capital.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance and Appropriations committee made a decisive 13-2 vote against the bill proposing a referendum for Fairfax County. This referendum would have sought public opinion on constructing a casino and conference center in Tysons Corner, an area known for its upscale retail and office spaces.

This decision by the committee effectively puts a halt to the bill’s progress for the current legislative session. However, there remains a sliver of hope for proponents of the casino, as the committee chose not to dismiss the bill entirely but rather to postpone it for reconsideration in 2025.

Chairwoman of the committee, Sen. L. Louise Lucas, had previously expressed her desire during a subcommittee hearing to explore ways to keep the bill active and to update research on the possible tax revenues it could generate. Known for her support of casino-related legislation, Lucas humorously referred to herself as the “casino queen” of the General Assembly.

Opposition and Support for the Casino Proposal

Several state and county legislators have voiced their concerns, arguing that a casino would not be suitable for the area, especially since the proposed location is near the Silver Line Metrorail station, a site highly valued by the county for more premium commercial developments.

Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, a critic of the casino, highlighted Tysons Corner’s appeal to Fortune 500 companies, suggesting that a casino would not be welcomed by such enterprises in their community.

Contrarily, the bill’s proponent, Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, argued that the pandemic has led to a reduced demand for prime office space, necessitating Fairfax County’s need to diversify its tax base. He emphasized that a countywide referendum would allow for a broader decision-making process regarding the potential financial benefits a casino could bring, rather than leaving it to the preferences of any single neighborhood.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell pointed out the significant revenue a casino could generate, potentially saving county taxpayers $500 to $600 annually. A 2019 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee suggested that a casino in northern Virginia could bring in $155 million in annual tax revenue, surpassing other Virginia casinos.

Community Resistance and Future Prospects

Connie Hartke from the Reston Citizens Association, representing civic groups opposing the casino, assured that resistance would only strengthen if attempts to introduce the casino continue into the next year.

The same day saw the committee advancing a different piece of legislation that would allow Petersburg to conduct a referendum on hosting a casino, following the 2020 approval for casinos in five Virginia cities, with Richmond voters rejecting the proposal twice.

Furthermore, the committee also deliberated on a bill concerning online sports betting on college games involving Virginia-based teams, opting to postpone it to 2025 instead of dismissing it altogether, mirroring the approach taken with the northern Virginia casino bill.