Posted on: March 28, 2024, 10:55h. 

Last updated on: March 28, 2024, 11:32h.

The odds of Petersburg getting the chance to ask residents if they support bringing a commercial casino resort to the Virginia city presumably improved on Wednesday. That’s after billionaire Ted Leonsis announced he’s keeping his professional sports teams in Washington, D.C.

Petersburg casino Virginia Ted Leonsis
Billionaire Ted Leonsis announces that he’s keeping his Washington, D.C. professional sports teams in the nation’s capital while  Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council Chair Phil Mendelson look on. The odds of Petersburg, Virginia, being cleared for a casino might have shortened with Leonsis staying.  (Image: AP)

In what’s the latest political defeat for Virginia Gov. Glenn Younkin (R), once a rising star in the Republican Party — but who was dealt a major blow during the 2023 election when Democrats regained control of the state House of Delegates and increased their Senate control — Leonsis said Wednesday he’s staying put at Capital One Arena in Washington. Younkin had been trying to lure Leonsis and his NBA Washington Wizards, NHL Washington Capitals, and WNBA Washington Mystics to Alexandria with a $2 billion sports and entertainment complex.

After Washington officials pitched Leonsis with $515 million in renovations and improvements, Leonsis agreed to remain in the nation’s capital.

I look at outcomes, not process, and we got to the right outcome,” Leonsis said in keeping Washington’s sports teams in the district.  

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), a rather unpopular mayor because of the city’s surging unlawfulness and homelessness, said the city’s more than half of a billion-dollar pledge will result in a “state-of-the-art urban arena.”

Younkin Bargaining Chip

Virginia lawmakers passed legislation to designate Petersburg for a casino license earlier this year. The political effort came after voters in Richmond twice rejected a casino referendum.

Petersburg city officials and the public are supportive of becoming a casino destination. Younkin hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the bill.

Rumors surfaced that Youngkin was holding up signing the casino bill. Senate President Pro Tempore L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), one of the most powerful Democrats in the state, needed to lifted her strong opposition to the Alexandria arena scheme dubbed Potomac Yard Entertainment District. Lucas co-sponsored the Petersburg casino law.

Youngkin dismissed reports that he was tying up the Petersburg casino bill until more Democrats got behind Potomac Yard. With the project now folded, that bargaining chip, if there ever really was one, is no more.

Younkin was naturally upset about the General Assembly not including the Potomac Yard project in the state budget and Leonsis abandoning what would have been a legacy project for the governor.

Virginians deserve better. A one-of-a-kind project bringing world-class athletes and entertainment, creating 30,000 jobs and $12 billion in economic activity, just went up in smoke,” Youngkin in a statement.

“This transformational project would have driven investment to every corner of the commonwealth. This should have been our deal and our opportunity, all the General Assembly had to do was say: ‘Thank you, Monumental, for wanting to come to Virginia and create $12 billion of economic investment, let’s work it out.’ But no, personal and political agendas drove away a deal with no upfront general fund money and no tax increases that created tens of thousands of new jobs and billions in revenue for Virginia,” the governor added.

Clock Ticking

The Virginia Constitution mandates that the governor act on all legislation sent to his desk within 30 days of receipt. Younkin has until April 8 at 11:59 pm EST to act on the Petersburg casino bill.

If he signs the measure or allows it to become law without his signature, Petersburg’s local government can field bids for a casino development.

Once a project is approved, the undertaking would go before voters this November. A simple majority would need to support the gaming initiative to move forward.

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