Richmond, Virginia Nonprofit Seeks to Block Casino Vote

Posted on: August 14, 2023, 06:09h. 

Last updated on: August 15, 2023, 09:31h.

A nonprofit in Richmond, Va., is going to court in an effort to block a new casino referendum, arguing that the city illegally handed a no-bid contract to an out-of-state developer.

Richmond courts
A Richmond judge is considering whether to let a local nonprofit attempt to block a casino vote in Richmond, Va. (Image: Joe Gratz)

Lodge No. 1 of the Good Lions filed a motion late Friday with a Richmond city court, asking for the opportunity to argue its case against the referendum. The group, a branch of Lions Club International, runs biweekly charitable gaming events at a local bingo hall. It says that plans for a resort-style development on the city’s south side would harm those operations.

A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning on the motion.

Second Attempt at Casino Vote

The court last month green-lit plans for a new casino vote this year. The vote is an attempt by city leaders to revive the planned $500M development that voters narrowly rejected in 2021.

State law requires municipal ballot measures like the casino vote to receive a judge’s blessing at least 81 days prior to Election Day, a deadline that hits this Friday, August 18. That shouldn’t prevent the Lions from getting their day in court, argues State Sen. Chap Petersen, a Northern Virginia lawyer who has taken the nonprofit’s case.

The prior certification of the referendum, dated July 25, complies with the deadline requirement “regardless of whether that Order is later suspended for any reason,” Petersen wrote in an August 14 letter to Richmond Judge William Marchant. “Therefore, the Court is free to consider our motions on the merits, without jeopardizing the timing of the referendum.”

Petersen told that the Lions’ goal is not to bog down the litigation in court, and adding that there’s ample time to resolve the case before November.

The group argues that Richmond city leaders violated state competitive bidding laws by moving forward with the $562 million resort proposal. That’s despite significant changes in the consortium developing the project, RVA Entertainment Holdings LLC, compared to when it was initially put forward more than two years ago. The biggest difference is the entrance of Churchill Downs Incorporated into the process alongside media company Urban One, which was behind the original proposal.

RVA was selected following a formal process ahead of the 2021 vote. But there was no similar weighing of competing bids this time around.

“We may not have liked the process, but at least there was a process,” Petersen said in a brief interview Monday.

Standing Question

The first hurdle for the Good Lions is for the group to convince the judge it has standing to intervene in the case, and to do that, the group is pointing to the state’s previous conclusion that casino-style gambling will eat into charitable gaming.

Its business will be adversely affected by the establishment of a casino, a fact acknowledged by the report on casino gaming by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (“JLARC”), especially at the site desired by RVA Entertainment,” the group argued in its motion to intervene.

Now that the nonprofit has jumped into the fray, another local casino opponent tells he is stepping back.

Paul Goldman, a Richmond-based political strategist, floated plans to sue earlier this year. But he says the Good Lions appear to have a better shot at winning the standing argument.

“He’s making as good a case as anybody can make,” Goldman said of Petersen. “And if the court won’t accept Good Lions as an intervener, they wouldn’t accept me.”