Three Companies Vying for Richmond Casino, City Mayor Learning From Previous Mistakes

Posted on: December 21, 2020, 12:40h. 

Last updated on: December 21, 2020, 01:57h.

Richmond will hold a ballot referendum next November asking local voters if they wish to approve a single casino resort.

Richmond casino Virginia gambling
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, seen here in September with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, believes a casino could be the economic catalyst the city needs. (Image: Richmond Free Press)

Three companies have informed the city that they are interested in developing a casino resort in the Virginia capital. One is the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which is building a $500 million casino resort in Norfolk with billionaire Jon Yarbrough.

Chicago-based Revolutionary Racing, which owns and operates the Colonial Downs Racetrack and Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums across the Commonwealth, has also revealed its intent to acquire the Virginia casino permit. Urban One Inc., a publicly traded conglomerate headquartered in Maryland that says its mission “is to be the most trusted source in the African-American community that informs, entertains, and inspires,” is the third interested party.

Richmond asked city residents earlier this month to complete an online survey with their input on a potential casino resort. Constituents said good-paying jobs and tax revenue for area schools are the most important economic benefits of allowing a casino to come to town.

Failed Economic Development

Despite being home to several Fortune 500 companies, Richmond has fallen on difficult times. In 2016, nearly one in four city residents lived below the poverty line.

The Richmond story is similar to a lot of other places. There’s a central city with a high degree of poverty and racial minorities, surrounded by more affluent, whiter suburbs,” explained Thad Williamson, an associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond.

City officials have long been trying to remedy that reality. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney believes a casino could be the economic spark the capital needs. But he says he’s learned from the disastrous Navy Hill downtown project.

Stoney announced in late 2017 “the largest economic development project in the city’s history.” The more than $1 billion vision to transform downtown with new apartments, offices, retail shops, restaurants, and a sports stadium was dead less than two years later.

Critics said the economic development process was rushed and flawed.

“The lesson learned from that exercise [Navy Hill] was that community engagement has to be at the center of what we do when it comes to economic development,” Stoney told the Richmond Times-Dispatch this week. “We want economic development — which to me is economic justice — for all of our residents.”

“This is about growth, not just for the city, but growth as an administration and government,” the mayor added. “And I believe that we have to take lessons from our last opportunity.”

No Rush on Gaming

Richmond was one of five Virginia cities that met various economic criteria in the state’s commercial gaming law signed this year by Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The gaming bill allows citizens in struggling cities to decide whether to bring a casino to their towns to spur economic growth. Bristol, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Danville all passed ballot referendums last month authorizing a casino each.

Richmond, however, opted to delay its ballot amendment by a year. The question will go before voters in November of 2021. If the casino issue garners a simple majority, the capital city will be able to proceed with a gaming development.

Stoney expects the Richmond City Council to review proposals from the three interested parties and pick a preferred gaming partner in February.