Push to bring casino to Fairfax Co. may be set back a year after subcommittee recommendation

A Virginia Senate subcommittee recommended Thursday to table a bill that aims to bring a casino to Fairfax County, which would delay the effort by a year so lawmakers could further examine the economic implications.

The bill would ultimately allow Fairfax County residents to decide whether a casino is built by way of a ballot referendum.

State Sen. Dave Marsden, a Democrat who represents part of Fairfax County, introduced the legislation about a year after bringing forth a similar plan to build the casino in Reston. Marsden ultimately withdrew that legislation.

The new complex, Marsden said, would be located in Tysons on the west side of Route 7, near the Spring Hill Metro station and Dulles Access Road.

Casino plan draws strong reactions

Civic groups and homeowner associations in the neighborhoods around the proposed casino have expressed opposition. Several senators noted that they have received hundreds of emails and letters opposing the plan.

Opponents who attended Thursday’s meeting of a Senate Finance and Appropriations subcommittee included Fairfax County Supervisor Walter Alcorn, Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert and Herndon Town Council member Naila Alam.

“Vienna residents are just really, really strongly against this. I have not heard from one resident, actually, that is for it,” Colbert said.

But Marsden said the project would create an estimated 3,200 to 4,200 jobs and has the strong support of Northern Virginia labor organizations. Virginia Diamond, president of the Northern Virginia Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, spoke in favor of the bill Thursday “for the great jobs that it’s going to create for members of our community.”

After hearing the testimony, the subcommittee raised questions about how much revenue a casino in Fairfax County could generate. Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission last studied the prospect of a Northern Virginia casino in 2019 and found it “would increase statewide gaming tax revenue by an estimated additional $155 million (59%) and employ an additional 3,200 workers.”

Subcommittee members expressed a desire for a more in-depth and up-to-date analysis of a site in Fairfax County, specifically, before voting to table the bill until next year.

Marsden said the full Finance and Appropriations Committee will decide next week whether it will accept the subcommittee’s recommendation.

Local leaders voice concerns

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, which would have the authority under the bill to put the issue on the ballot, met last week to discuss a potential casino. Board Chair Jeff McKay said during that meeting that “we didn’t ask for this.”

“This concept was derived in a vacuum. I saw the bill only after the General Assembly had begun their session,” McKay said. “We need to protect ourselves in the event, possibly, that this bill could be approved by making sure that we put out there what our concerns are with this.”

During the meeting, McKay informed board members of his intent to send statehouse leaders a letter spelling out supervisors’ concerns with the casino bill. Each member of the board proceeded to lay out their concerns with the bill in its current form, with many members saying they are outright opposed to the idea of a casino in their district.

“I do have concerns about the impacts that they can cause as it relates to some of our lower socioeconomic individuals making decisions to spend their money in these locations,” Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who represents the Franconia district, said. “This idea of giving us an option to increase revenue, while it does that, this isn’t the solution. This is not the answer.”

Casinos have been approved and opened in DanvilleBristol and Portsmouth after legislation, and local voter approval authorized them in 2020. Voters in Norfolk also approved a casino, but the project is still going through the approval process.

A study commissioned in 2019 by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee found that a Northern Virginia casino could generate $155 million annually in tax revenue, nearly double the revenue projected for a Richmond casino.

Voters in Richmond have twice rejected a ballot measure to bring a casino to their city.

WTOP’s Scott Gelman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Thomas Robertson

Thomas Robertson is an Associate Producer and Web Writer/Editor at WTOP. After graduating in 2019 from James Madison University, Thomas moved away from Virginia for the first time in his life to cover the local government beat for a small daily newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio.

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