Skip to content

Arlington's legislators not ready to roll dice on N.Va. casino

Favola, Ebbin each express some concerns as state Senate sends bill to purgatory

It’s on hold until 2025 – if it isn’t quietly killed off before that – but a measure to bring a gambling casino to Tysons potentially could have to do without the support of Arlington’s state senators if and when it is brought back up for consideration.

Both state Sens. Barbara Favola and Adam Ebbin, who sit on the committee that heard and then deferred the proposal, raised concerns about various facets of the plan.

Favola (D-Arlington) said that unlike previous casino legislation in other areas of the commonwealth, which had been sought by the localities in question, the 2024 bill was specific to a certain neighborhood. That, she said, would set a bad precedent.

“I don’t want to go down that path,” Favola said during a Feb. 6 session of the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations.

That body voted 13-2 to push consideration of the bill until the 2025 session. Committee members some minutes earlier had voted 9-5 (with one abstention) against a substitute motion by state Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Reston-Great Falls) that would have given “passed by indefinitely” status to the bill, one of the legislative phrases that equate to killing it off permanently.

At an earlier subcommittee meeting, Ebbin (D-Alexandria-Arlington) voiced concerns that the Fairfax County leadership had not bought into the concept.

“I think a casino could be a real economic opportunity in Fairfax County,” Ebbin said, but added that local governments usually come forward and ask legislators for authority to put such proposals on a referendum.

The measure, SB 675, is patroned by state Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax). If enacted, it would add Fairfax County to the list of localities eligible to host a casino, and require that such a facility be built within a quarter-mile of a station on Metro’s Silver Line, outside Interstate 495 and not on the flight path of Washington Dulles International Airport. It also would need to be part of a mixed-use development and sited within 2 miles of a major shopping destination with at least 1.5 million square feet of gross floor area.

For those who have studied the wording and the geography, that essentially limits the proposal to a site near the Spring Hill Metro station.

Marsden at the Feb. 6 committee hearing continued what was an increasingly uphill battle to keep the idea alive for 2024. He  said the facility, which would have a conference center, would boost state revenues for education and relieve office-vacancy problems in Tysons.

State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) also favored the casino at the hearing, saying it could be every bit as successful as MGM National Harbor across the Potomac River.

But in the end, the view of powerful  committee chair – Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) – held sway.

Lucas, who at the earlier subcommittee hearing described herself as “the Casino Queen,” said she wanted to keep the bill alive and would like updated revenue projections for a Northern Virginia casino, and then revisit the matter in the next session.

Because there is no companion measure moving through the House of Delegates, that effectively ended the matter for 2024.