Casino Referendum Set to Advance in Richmond, Va
Posted on: June 5, 2023, 11:20h.
Last updated on: June 6, 2023, 11:54h.
Plans for a new casino referendum in Richmond, Va., are moving ahead, and city leaders who support the project are optimistic that voters will ultimately side with them in November.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and City Council leaders began the formal process of putting a new referendum on this year’s ballot last week. Voters narrowly rejected a casino in 2021.
The city council’s Organizational Development Standing Committee is scheduled to meet today to take the first formal step in the process when it votes on a resolution to endorse the proposed $500 million casino on the city’s south side. The full city council is scheduled to vote on the measure a week later.
Adding to proponents’ optimism is the participation of Churchill Downs, the famed home of the Kentucky Derby, which is committed to partnering with Black-focused media conglomerate Urban One to develop the casino. Churchill Downs, in February, took over casino and resort assets from Peninsula Pacific Entertainment’s (P2E), the initial partner of Urban One in the project.
“I don’t care who you are, everyone knows the Kentucky Derby,” Jones said, calling Churchill Downs’ involvement a “major change.”
‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs’
City Councilwoman Reva Trammel, another project champion, told Casino.org she plans to hold a community meeting on Thursday with Stoney, Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins, and other community representatives to discuss the project’s benefits.
It’ll be jobs, jobs, jobs,” Trammel told Casino.org.
City officials estimate the project will create 1,300 jobs.
Assuming the council backs the plan, there are still some hurdles to clear, including review by local courts, and opponents are holding out hope that the state legislature may again block the referendum, as it did last year.
But options appear to be thin. State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D), who has sought to block the Richmond vote in order to ease the path for a casino in Petersburg, Va., about 25 miles to the south, failed to get language included in the state budget earlier this year. He is holding out hope that the legislature can reconvene before its session expires on July 1 to act on the issue.
“There appears to be a consensus,” Morrissey told Axios this week.
Morrissey blamed the budget delay on political considerations by members of the state legislature ahead of the June 20 primary elections. Still, he said he expected the legislature would reconvene and pass a budget after the primary and before the July 1 deadline to end the session.
He acknowledged the legislature is in “a bit of uncharted territory” but said there was ample support block Richmond from holding up another casino vote and that the budget delay had more to do with larger disagreements around issues such as taxes.
If the legislature is able to pass a budget this month, “we’ll be right back where we were last year,” Morrissey told Casino.org.
He also said he expected to have additional support in next year’s legislative session to pass new legislation allowing Petersburg to hold its own referendum to host Virginia’s fifth casino instead of Richmond.
But Richmond officials appear unperturbed by Morrissey’s ongoing opposition.
When you look at the Joe Morrissey playbook, this is kinda expected,” City Council President Michael Jones told Casino.org in an interview. “We just want something different than what he’s proposing. … We want to be allowed to exercise what was given to us.”
While critics say it would be unfair to give Richmond another crack at a casino referendum, following the 2021 vote in which 51% of voters said no to the plan, Jones said it is not uncommon for referendums to go out more than once.
Last time there was a lot of misinformation,” Jones told Casino.org, blaming “NIMBYism” for much of the opposition to the project.
Jones noted that the majority of Black precincts south of the James River, nearer to the proposed casino site, were more likely to vote in favor of the measure last time around. He was hopeful that voters throughout the city would be more apt to vote yes this year.
Jones lamented that the vote was so sharply divided along racial lines and said supporters would be “going to the white communities, sharing why the Black communities want it.”
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