Petersburg, Va., Mayor Faces Reelection Challenge From Anti-Casino Opponent
The mayor of Petersburg, Va., wants the state legislature to allow his city residents to ponder the economic benefits of authorizing a casino resort. But that support could damper his chances of being reelected during this year’s November municipal election.
Sam Parham won his Petersburg City Council seat representing Ward 3 in 2014. He was picked by the council in early 2017 to serve as mayor.
Parham is seeking a third term on the council, but his support of petitioning the Virginia General Assembly to re-write its 2020 commercial gambling law to include Petersburg has provoked a November challenger. Michael Storrs, a social worker at Poplar Springs Hospital, hopes to unseat Parham in November.
Social media in the Petersburg area has been abuzz since Parham partnered with Virginia Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond, Petersburg) to support a state effort to relocate Richmond’s casino permit to Petersburg. One Facebook group has formed with the intent of ousting Parham from office because of his belief that a casino is in Peterburg’s best interest.
Richmond voters during last November’s election narrowly rejected a proposed $565 million casino plan called ONE Casino + Resort. While local leaders in the capital city are trying to hold a second gaming referendum with the hopes of a different outcome, Morrissey and Parham say the state should instead consider Petersburg as a host casino destination.
Virginia’s 2020 gaming bill qualified five cities — Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, Danville, and Richmond — to ask their voters if they support using a casino development as a regional economic catalyst. Those cities met multiple qualifying criteria demonstrating economic hardship.
While voters in each of the other four cities backed their casino proposals through referendums, Richmond voters said “no.”
Richmond partnered with Urban One, a Black-focused media conglomerate with zero gaming experience, as its preferred development partner. Though the radio and television company pledged that Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, an experienced casino operator, would run and manage ONE Casino + Resort, many voters voiced apprehension after Richmond’s Resort Casino Evaluation Panel chose Urban One over more experienced and well-known gaming players such as Bally’s and Golden Nugget.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and the City Council believe voters weren’t fully aware of the economic benefits ONE Casino + Resort would have delivered the capital metro. The local leaders believe a more coordinated campaign message hyping the casino’s advantages would result in a majority of city residents lending their backing to the initiative.
Morrissey lost the Richmond mayoral election to Stoney in 2016 before winning state office during the 2019 election. The two remain political rivals.
While Stoney and the Richmond City Council are seeking a second referendum, Morrissey convinced his state legislative colleagues to include a provision in their 2022-2024 biennium budget bill that prevents Richmond from holding another casino referendum until November 2023.
Stoney says the city is reviewing its legal options to potentially challenge the state’s blocking of another referendum for a year. Morrissey argues that a delay is warranted to allow the state to probe the financial and economic benefits of allowing Petersburg to consider a casino.
However, the Virginia General Assembly would need to re-write or amend, and then pass and have Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) sign, its commercial gaming bill before Petersburg could lawfully vote on a casino project.
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