Consideration of legislation to make Fairfax County eligible for a casino has officially been put on hold until 2025.
The Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee voted 13-2 this morning (Tuesday) to continue Senate Bill 675 to next year, affirming a recommendation made last Thursday (Feb. 1) by its resources subcommittee.
The vote came after a failed effort by state Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33) to more forcefully table the bill from Sen. Dave Marsden (D-35), who has advocated for a casino in Tysons specifically as a potential revenue boost for both Fairfax County and the state.
Urging her fellow committee members to pass the bill by indefinitely, Boysko says “hundreds and hundreds” of local community members had voiced opposition to a possible casino at a town hall she and other representatives of the Reston and McLean areas held on Saturday (Feb. 3).
The town hall drew over 400 people, according to Boysko’s office. The senator told FFXnow that she has also received “thousands and thousands of letters and emails and calls from constituents” opposed to a casino.
“We’ve heard [the opposition] all year long,” Boysko said at the committee meeting, recalling a doctor’s appointment she had last summer where the doctor told her that he didn’t want a casino in the area. “…I ask my colleagues to respect the will of the neighbors I have.”
In addition to emphasizing the opposition from area residents, Boysko and Sen. Barbara Favola (D-40) warned that Marsden’s bill sets a new precedent for determining where casinos can be built in Virginia.
The five localities currently eligible for a casino — Portsmouth, Danville, Bristol, Norfolk and Richmond — all requested that authority from the General Assembly, as has Petersburg, which is being considered as a replacement for Richmond after the voters in the state capital rejected a referendum twice.
Though they didn’t officially oppose the legislation, Fairfax County leaders have stressed that they didn’t ask for the county to be added to the list of eligible casino hosts and weren’t consulted about the proposed development.
SB 675 also deviates by laying out criteria that limits potential sites for a casino to somewhere in Tysons near a Silver Line Metro station outside the Capital Beltway. Comstock is reportedly eying the abandoned Exclusive Automotive Group lot at 8546 Leesburg Pike, according to Marsden.
“This would set a precedent that is very different from our current framework, and I don’t want to go down that path,” said Favola, who represents Arlington.
However, Marsden argued that a casino would bring in substantial new revenue at a time when offices are struggling and Metro needs more funding from Virginia, D.C. and Maryland to avoid potentially drastic budget cuts.
The envisioned casino development from Comstock would also include a conference center, hotel and concert venue, he noted.
“There’s no reason right now for people to come to Fairfax County,” Marsden said. “…We don’t get visitors, we don’t have tourism.”
Visit Fairfax, a nonprofit that handles the county’s tourism marketing, says it drew $3.42 billion in tourism spending annually, as of 2021.
A 2019 study projected that a Northern Virginia casino could generate an estimated $155 million in gaming tax revenue for the state. The facility could rival MGM National Harbor in Maryland, saving local taxpayers “about $500 to $600 a year,” Sen. Scott Surovell (D-34) claimed.
“The people in my part of the county do not feel the same way as people in other parts of the county,” Surovell, who represents the Richmond Highway corridor, said. “I think we owe them a conversation. This would help schools around the state as well, and I think we need to continue this dialogue.”
If approved, the bill would turn the issue over to voters for a referendum, “the purest form of democracy,” Marsden said.
The finance committee ultimately voted 9-5 against Boysko’s motion to pass by the bill indefinitely, with Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-28) abstaining. As the votes were tallied, a couple of boos could be heard from the audience.
Boysko told FFXnow that the difference between her motion and the committee’s decision to continue the legislation to 2025 was mostly “a situation of semantics,” since the bill would’ve been halted for the year either way.
“Continued is just a more gentle way of stopping a bill for the session and [passing it by] is a more forceful and oppositional way of stopping a bill,” she said.
Assuming Marsden brings SB 675 back next year, it will have to go through Senate committee hearings again.
Still, as the senator representing much of northern Fairfax County, including Reston, Herndon and McLean, Boysko wanted to make the strength of her constituents’ opposition to the proposed casino clear to the committee. Sen. Saddam Azlan Salim (D-37), whose district includes Tysons, has also publicly opposed SB 675.
Though she voted with the majority to continue the bill after her motion to pass it by failed, Boysko says she remains “in strong opposition” to it based on both substance and process.
“I don’t like the idea that another legislator can come and propose a major project in their district when they know full and well that the community is not behind it, doesn’t want it, and the member doesn’t want it as well,” Boysko told FFXnow. “It’s just not customary practice, and I don’t believe it’s something we want to start doing in the General Assembly.”