Richmond Bets Double or Nothing on Casino, as City Seeks Second Referendum

Posted on: January 25, 2022, 07:43h. 

Last updated on: January 25, 2022, 10:07h.

If the Richmond City Council has its way, residents in the Virginia capital will be asked again about a nearly $600 million casino resort that they previously rejected.

Richmond casino Urban One Virginia gambling
The Richmond City Council meets with the public during its January 24 hearing to discuss holding a second vote on a proposed casino. Despite some opposition, the council voted in favor of proceeding with another vote. (Image: WWBT)

Richmond voters narrowly rejected ONE Casino + Resort last year, a $565 million resort project that would have put a casino adjacent to the Philip Morris tobacco plant along I-95. The rejected local ballot referendum, councilmembers argue, cost the city 1,500 good-paying permanent jobs. It also nixed an immediate one-time $25 million payment from the resort development group and an estimated $30 million in new annual tax revenue.

The potential benefits, the council concluded, far outweigh the potential societal harms opponents have argued, such as gambling addiction and crime. That’s why the City Council last night voted 8-1 in favor of proceeding with a second vote on the casino proposal. Councilor Katherine Jordan was the lone dissenter, the 2nd District rep saying she simply opposes gambling.

Urban One, a Black-focused media conglomerate headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, a California-based casino company that owns and operates six Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums and Colonial Downs Racetrack in Virginia, are behind the ONE Casino venture. The partnered companies plan to sign a new development and host agreement with Richmond in order to initiate a second ballot vote.

Tax Break Floated

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) is supportive of the city asking residents for a second time to back a commercial casino resort undertaking. In hopes of winning over some of the 2021 “no” votes, the mayor has proposed a two-cent reduction to the city’s real estate tax rate if the measure passes.

Stoney says minorities in the city took the failed casino vote personally, many claiming that they don’t feel welcomed to be part of the region’s economic future.

ONE Casino was set to be the first Black-owned commercial casino resort in the United States. Along with Urban One, the ownership structure was to include 50 investors who identify as minorities.

Election results showed that wealthier neighborhoods north of the James River heavily opposed the casino, while more minority-rich communities on the southside overwhelmingly support the project.

Of the approximately 77,000 votes cast on ONE Casino, the final tally was separated by only 1,500 votes in favor of rejecting the project.

Alfred Liggins, Urban One CEO, says the company will do a better job of promoting the economic and community benefits of voting in favor of his casino, should a revote occur.

Obstacles Remain

Opponents argue that Richmond trying to hold a second referendum is undemocratic. State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) voted in favor of ONE Casino last year. But he is now working on the state level to pass a law that would allow nearby Petersburg to hold a casino referendum and relocate Richmond’s unissued gaming license south to the town.

Morrissey’s bill also seeks to prohibit Richmond from asking residents again on the gaming matter.

Richmond community activist Allan-Charles Chipman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that a second vote wrongly takes a page out of the casino industry playbook to “defy the expressed will of the people.”

“While double or nothing is an acceptable tool for someone who lost a bet in the casino, it is not an acceptable option for the members of this body who lost a bet on a casino,” Chipman told the council yesterday evening.