Richmond City Seeking Court Order for 2nd Casino Referendum This November

Richmond Virginia
The city government of Richmond is in a rush to secure a court order from the Richmond Circuit Court to authorize a second casino referendum before it is blocked by the General Assembly using a language inserted in the budget.

The suit was filed on March 10th by Interim City Attorney Haskell C. Brown III after the state’s casino regulatory body, the Virginia Lottery Board, raised no objections following a 45-day review. It is expected that the case will be assigned to Chief Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Merchant although no hearing date has been set so far.

Holding a Second Vote

It can be recalled that last November, Richmond voters rejected a proposal to build a casino in South Side via a 1,500 vote margin. However, the City Council, with the backing of Mayor Levar M. Stoney, authorized a second attempt at securing the proposed $565 million casino project for Richmond.

The House and Senate both rejected bills that prevented Richmond from holding a second casino referendum before Petersburg is even given the opportunity to vote on whether to open a casino. However, a provision was inserted in the Senate version of the budget bill that would bar Richmond from holding a second vote until 2023.

The language requires the city of Richmond to wait while the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission completes a study that would determine the viability of Petersburg as a casino site and whether Central Virginia could support two casinos.

No New Two-Year Budget Passed

Despite that possible issue, City officials believe that if they could get a court order before the budget is approved and becomes effective, then any language to suspend a vote in November becomes irrelevant.

The General Assembly adjourned last Saturday without passing a new two-year budget although there are talks behind the scenes that Gov. Glenn A. Youngkin is going to call a special session to get the budget talks back on track.

The budget must be in place before the July 1st deadline or else the state faces the possibility of a government shutdown. But even if the Assembly passes the budget anytime soon with the language in place, it will not take effect until July 1st.

City Council Approves ONE Casino + Resort Project in Richmond

Richmond Virginia
The proposed ONE Casino + Resort in Richmond passed the City Council on a vote of 8-1 on Monday, taking it to the city’s November 2 ballot for the approval of voters.

If passed, it will become the first casino in the United States under Black ownership.

The Richmond casino is a project of Urban One Inc., a Maryland-based African-American owned media conglomerate with over 55 radio and TV stations owned including the TV One cable network, and Peninsula Pacific Network, the owner of the Rosie’s Gaming Emporium franchise and the Colonial Downs Group.

Said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney in a statement on Monday:

“ONE Casino + Resort is a $562.5 million project that will create 1,300 well-paying jobs with benefits in South Richmond, and every Richmond resident will benefit from the new revenue created by the project. City Council’s vote tonight paves the way for every voting Richmond resident to have their voice heard on this important project.”

According to the office of the City Mayor, the city will now submit the preferred operator and site to the Virginia Lottery Board for pre-certification. They will also make the petition to the Richmond Circuit Court to hold the November 2 referendum.

A $562.5M Project

It is slated to be built at the former Philip Morris building off Walmsley Boulevard in the city’s South Side, near interstate 95, which is an economically deprived area in the city.

The $562.5M project includes a sportsbook, 250 hotel rooms, a 3,000 seat theater, 12 bards, a restaurant and 100,000 square feet of gaming area.

Six Richmond casino proposals were received last January but a city-appointed advisory committee recommended the ONE Casino + Resort plan to be approved by the city council after narrowing down the field.

Catalyst to the South Side

Urban One’s Richmond casino proposal is being hailed as a “catalyst to the south side” which lawmakers agree need significant infrastructure and economic development. Aside from that, it is seen as an amazing opportunity for the city overall.

According to Urban One, its Richmond casino project will create an estimated 1,300 permanent jobs which would pay a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The company will also pay an upfront $25M to the city and is expected to generate a $5.7B economic impact over its first decade of operations.

As such, the transformational project will generate millions of dollars in much-needed tax revenue that can be used by the city for schools, affordable housing, development of workforce, infrastructure, and other city projects.

Richmond Rejects Bally’s Casino Proposal at Stratford Hills

Richmond Virginia

The city of Richmond has removed Bally’s casino project at the Stratford Hills area from its shortlist of casino development proposals.

After two weeks of public protests against Bally’s, the city announced the decision on Wednesday while also saying that it is still evaluating the two other proposals it has received ahead of a planned November referendum where voters will decide whether to allow a casino resort in the city.

According to the Richmond City Economic Development Department, the proposal of Bally’s was rejected because of concerns about site access, environmental factors, and required approvals from non-city entities that may not be granted or extend the timeline of the project.

Said Leonard Sledge, director of the City Economic Development Department:

“We appreciate Bally’s interest to develop a resort casino project in Richmond. We also appreciate the many Richmond citizens who have shared their thoughts throughout this process.”

Potential Impact of Traffic

Those opposed to Bally’s project to build a Richmond casino claimed among others its potential impact of traffic. Protesters also pointed to environment, public safety, and the graves of enslaved and freed Black people whose descendants still live nearby.

Bally’s tried to offer a solution to the potential traffic congestion at Forest Hill Avenue by changing the road configuration on its primary development plan. The Rhode Island based gambling company offered to build new parkway ramps with access to the property.

Requesting Casino Proposals

The city requested Richmond casino project proposals last December after a new state law legalizing it in Richmond and four other localities – Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth if the local voters approve it.

Richmond received a total of three proposals. With Bally’s out, the remaining two belong to Washington media conglomerate Urban One and the Cordish Companies which operate the Live! Casino brand. Urban One’s proposal is located at the Philip Morris USA land off Commerce Road while Cordish’s proposal is to build a casino at the 17-acre Movieland Property.

Richmond Casino Applicants Down to Three

Richmond Virginia
Richmond has narrowed down its field of casino applicants, rejecting three out of the six proposals submitted to the city last month.

Per an official statement from the city:

“The top ranked proposals stood out because the operators provided strong proposals with detailed financial and operational analyses to support their vision for a resort casino in Richmond.”

The applications of Bally’s Richmond Casino Resort, Live! Casino & Hotel Richmond, and One Casino + Resort. Meanwhile, the proposals of Golden Nugget, Wind Creek Hospitality, and Pamunkey Indian Tribe & Reservation were disapproved.

A Single Casino Operator

According to the press release, the three Richmond casino proposals were rejected due to factors like “lack of site control, concerns about the feasibility of financial projections, lack of organizational experience, and deficiency in the proposal”.

The decision was revealed as the city continues to collect public feedback on the resort-casino proposals it requested for last year. Under a new law introduced by the state last year, Richmond is allowed to have a single casino operator if local voters approve it in a referendum that the city is planning to hold this coming November.

Next Step

Now that the choices are down to three, the next step is for the Evaluation Panel to start negotiations with bidders while continuing to engage the community. The Panel is composed of seven administration officials plus city council members Andreas Adison and Ellen Robertson.

The city will be hosting three virtual meetings next week where the three advancing Richmond casino applicants will discuss their proposals and give citizens a chance to voice out their inquiries or ask questions. The meetings will be held virtually, via Microsoft Teams and these are open to the public. Those interested can join the meeting using a link, or by calling 804-316-9457 with phone conference ID 934 627 185.