Could a New Washington, DC Arena Be Next to a Casino?

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Virginia’s Senate Majority Leader is one of the people leading a pitch to build a new home venue for the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards beside a casino in Fairfax County. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Change on the horizon

The Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards are looking for a new home as they get ready to leave the District as soon as 2028. The main plan under consideration is from Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who wants to construct a $2bn facility in Alexandria, a city located just outside of Washington, DC.

concerns about financing and lack of support from residents

The company that owns the two teams, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, backs the idea despite opposition in Virginia’s General Assembly over concerns about financing and a lack of support from residents.

The Washington Post reported on Sunday about a long-shot alternative proposal doing the rounds that would put the new home arena beside a casino in Fairfax County. The plan would not need any bonds backed by taxpayers as it would utilize gambling tax revenue to guarantee the bonds.

Rolling the dice

The three-pronged team heading up the ambitious casino idea are Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, Fairfax consultant Ben Tribbett, and Comstock CEO Christopher Clemente. Tribbett’s client base includes Comstock, which hopes to build the casino, Surovell, and the main opponent to the original plan Senator Louise Lucas.

A local referendum is usually necessary for a city in Virginia to go ahead with a commercial casino.

Both local politicians and residents in Northern Virginia don’t appear to be overly enthusiastic about a casino coming to their region. The state’s General Assembly pushed back a bill proposing a casino in the area to the 2025 legislative session.

The chances of a casino-linked arena now look almost non-existent due to the lack of support across the board. Surovell pitched the casino plan to Monumental President of External Affairs Monica Dixon, who was not in favor of it at all. State lawmakers and Fairfax County officials were caught off-guard about the idea and were disappointed about not being kept in the loop.

Surovell remarked on Friday that he was surprised that the governor had seen the proposal, saying that it was something just in the “conceptual” stage and he only ran it by Monumental to see if it would be a potential runner.

Up in the air

The General Assembly will reconvene on April 17 and the governor will push his plan once more. JBG Smith, the prospective developer of the arena, is trying to sweeten the deal by doubling its commitment to protect nearby affordable housing if the project goes ahead on land that it partly owns. Monumental would contribute approximately $400m toward the development cost and the rest of the money would come from publicly issued 40-year bonds.

Both the Alexandria City Council and state legislators need to give the idea the green light for it to proceed. Some locals welcome the plan as a way to create a better mix of tax revenue sources for the city, while opponents worry about key questions like the potential impact on housing costs and traffic.

the lack of investment by the District itself in Capital One Arena

Ted Leonsis, the owner of the NHL and NBA teams, isn’t happy with the mortgage on the current home venue, labeling it as the “worst building deal in professional sports.” He also highlighted issues with crime in the surrounding area and the lack of investment by the District itself in Capital One Arena.

Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has attempted to try to keep the two teams in the city, saying in December that the district will invest $500m to make improvements to the Capital One Arena. If no deal is done, it is not apparent what will become of the facility, as Monumental owns the actual arena, while the city controls the real estate upon which it sits.

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