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BREAKING: Fairfax County casino bill put on hold until next year

State Sen. Dave Marsden presents SB 675, which would make Fairfax County eligible for a casino, before a Senate resources subcommittee (via Virginia Senate)

(Updated at 11:30 a.m. on 2/2/2024) The push to allow a casino in Fairfax County has stalled — at least for 2024.

A Virginia Senate subcommittee voted this afternoon (Thursday) to “continue” Senate Bill 675 until next year so a more in-depth analysis of the potential casino can be conducted.

The postponement came despite apparent support for the proposal by Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-18), who chairs the Senate Finance & Appropriations resources subcommittee and quipped that she’s been called “the casino queen” during the meeting.

Sen. Dave Marsden (D-35), who patroned the bill that would make Fairfax County — specifically Tysons — eligible for a casino, previously told FFXnow that he was hopeful it would pass, noting that Lucas, who also chairs the overall finance committee, “likes [the] bill.”

However, some senators, led by Creigh Deeds (D-11), questioned whether the county had been sufficiently studied as a possible host locality. Tyler Williams, a subcommittee staffer, confirmed that the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission looked at Northern Virginia as part of a casino gaming study in 2019, but Fairfax County wasn’t being considered individually at the time.

The study estimated that a Northern Virginia casino would employ 3,200 workers and bring in an additional $155 million in tax revenue to the state, including about $100 million that Virginia residents are currently spending at out-of-state casinos, such as MGM National Harbor in Maryland.

“I would like to see some updated projections, because I would like to keep this bill alive,” Lucas said before the subcommitte voted.

Marsden first introduced legislation that would allow a casino along the Silver Line last year, but the bill was quickly withdrawn to allow for more research. Patch reported in September that the proposal would be revived during the 2024 General Assembly session, with developer Comstock targeting the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station area as a possible site.

However, after Reston Association and other community groups began to marshal opposition to the impending legislation, Marsden filed a bill on Jan. 17 with criteria that narrowed the potential locations to Tysons. The bill advanced to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee from a general laws committee on Jan. 24.

Marsden has argued that a casino could give Fairfax County a new source of tax revenue with the office market in flux, and he maintained at today’s meeting that the bill is intended to give the county the authority to make its own decision. If the bill eventually becomes law, a voter referendum would still be required to authorize a casino.

“I think it’s time to send this to the local government [to] make their own decisions about this. There’s plenty of local control here,” Marsden said.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors hasn’t adopted an official stance on the legislation, but members made their reservations clear in a legislative committee meeting last Friday (Jan. 26) and in a letter that Chairman Jeff McKay sent to General Assembly leaders.

In addition to questioning whether the county would actually reap the revenue benefits touted by casino proponents, the supervisors stressed that they hadn’t requested the authority for an establishment and hadn’t been consulted by Marsden or the prospective developers.

According to Marsden, Comstock’s vision includes a conference center, arts venue and hotel, along with a casino.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn told the resources subcommittee that he’s “a strong no” on the possibility of a Fairfax County casino. Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert and Herndon Town Councilmember Naila Alam also stated that they oppose SB 675.

“I’m very happy that the subcommittee members listened to the community and the people elected to represent them,” Alcorn said in a statement, thanking Colbert and Alam for joining him in testifying. “It is a big victory for everyone who cares about good government!”

Marsden says he’s “disappointed” by the outcome, while that the vote still keeps the bill alive until 2025.

“No one has any other ideas to give Fairfax County a brighter revenue future,” he told FFXnow.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay praised the resources subcommittee’s vote as “the right thing” to do, hopefully enabling the community to learn more about the proposed casino project.

The Senate finance committee will formally vote on whether to accept the subcommittee’s recommendation next Tuesday (Feb. 6).

“We only learned many of those details in dribbles as the bill was sorted out and after it was introduced, and we still do not have all of the information we need,” McKay told FFXnow. “The community deserves to know all the details of a major proposal like this, details such as what is actually included in the proposal, the proposed site, potential revenues, community impacts, traffic impacts, and more, before the General Assembly considers it.”

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