Portsmouth group heads to Richmond to support casino legislation

Portsmouth, Va. (WAVY) -- A group of Portsmouth residents trekked up to Richmond Friday to support an effort to authorize casino gaming in Virginia.

State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) is co-sponsoiring a bill that would enable casino gambling in Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol, all gateway cities to Virginia.

Earlier this week, Portsmouth announced plans for a proposed waterfront casino on the former Holiday Inn site. The casino could generate about $52 million per year and create 3,000 new jobs. 

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne says Governor Ralph Northam would prefer a feasibility study to make sure lawmakers have all the information they need. Lucas doesn't want to wait.

"We need to move forward with this legislation," she told 10 On Your Side after she and Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe made their pitch to members of the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology.

Lucas sees a casino as vital for Portsmouth's economic survival.

"We’re losing businesses, we’re losing population.You just can’t pray people out of poverty."

The committee also heard a proposal for a casino in Norfolk. It would be a partnership with the Pamunkey Indian tribe. 

Chief Robert Gray says it’s the best opportunity for his people to raise capital.

"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."

But a representative from the Family Foundation says casino gambling won’t fulfill its promises.

"Casino gambling acts like a regressive tax," said the organization's Todd 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."

The committee could vote  to approve either or neither of the proposals Monday, and any plan that would be approved would go on to the General Assembly. Any casino measure approved by the state legislature would still be subject to a local referendum.


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