Richmond casino returning to Nov. ballots
Lottery, Richmond Circuit Court OK second referendum
It wasn’t exactly a surprise, but the Virginia Lottery and the Richmond Circuit Court have approved Richmond’s do-over casino referendum to appear on ballots this fall.
“I am excited to see the Virginia Lottery and the Richmond Circuit Court approve the referendum for a Richmond destination resort and entertainment venue that will provide 1,300 good-paying jobs and an estimated $30 million in annual revenue to tackle our community’s greatest needs,” Mayor Levar Stoney said in a statement Tuesday. “Richmond is experiencing record development and growth, and, with the addition of a destination resort, we will change the economic trajectory of South Side for years to come.”
In June, Richmond City Council voted to select RVA Entertainment Holdings LLC — a joint venture between Urban One Inc. and Churchill Downs Inc. — as the city’s preferred casino operator for the proposed $562.5 million ONE Casino + Resort that will be built in South Richmond near Interstate 95 if the referendum passes in November.
Council members also voted to execute a host community agreement between the city and RVA Entertainment Holdings, as well as a community support agreement between the city, developer RVA Entertainment Holdings and Richmond VA Management LLC (the entity that would manage the casino). The latter agreement would fulfill a negotiated payout of $25.5 million to the city from the developer if the referendum passes this year, as well as a $1 million bonus payment from the developer to the city upon closing of the resort casino’s financing.
After the council’s actions, the ball was in the court of the Lottery, which oversees the state’s commercial casino administrative processes, and the city’s circuit court, which placed the referendum on the ballot by order Tuesday.
After the General Assembly voted in 2019 to allow casinos in five economically challenged cities statewide, voters in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth approved casinos in their localities in 2020 referendums. Now, casinos are operating in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth, with another in development in Norfolk.
However, Richmond voters rejected the proposed ONE Casino + Resort in November 2021 by a 1,200-vote margin.
Casino boosters — including Stoney and most of the Richmond City Council — have said that the casino should get a second chance to win over city voters, and a loophole in state law didn’t bar a second referendum after the first failed. State Sen. Joe Morrissey tried to close that loophole during the General Assembly session this year in an attempt to get a referendum on Petersburg’s ballots and prevent a second vote in Richmond. He was unsuccessful and now is a lame duck, having lost his Democratic primary in June to keep his Senate seat.
Opponents of the mulligan referendum said that voters made their feelings clear two years ago. One City Council member, Katherine Jordan, has voted against the referendum consistently over the past two years.
“We are ready to elevate our 20-year-plus relationship with Richmonders by presenting opportunities for real economic impact,” Alfred Liggins, CEO of Urban One, said in a statement. “We are proud of the service we continue to provide through various community and business partnerships and are talking to local leaders and citizens about the kinds of entertainment options, jobs, and community benefits they want to see included in this project. While this initiative will create 1,300 well-paying jobs and generate $30 million in annual revenue for the city, we are most excited about the investment it allows us to continue to make in the citizens of this great city.”
Most of the particulars of the proposed casino are the same as they were two years ago, although Churchill Downs is now involved after having purchased Peninsula Pacific Entertainment LLC (P2E) for $2.75 billion last fall. P2E was part of the 2021 proposal for the ONE Casino + Resort with Silver Spring, Maryland-based Urban One, a media company that operates 55 radio stations and the TV One cable network. The parent company of Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, Churchill Downs also owns the Colonial Downs Racetrack in New Kent County and six Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums in Virginia, as well as several casinos nationwide.
According to Richmond Economic Development Director Leonard Sledge, the ONE Casino + Resort, which would include a 250-room hotel and radio, TV and film production studios and soundstages, would be built on a 97-acre site on the city’s South Side on property owned by Altria Group Inc. off Interstate 95, just as proposed in the 2021 referendum. The city anticipates 1,300 jobs would be directly created by the casino, which would generate $30 million in projected annual local tax revenue, Sledge says.
One difference in this year’s casino push is the absence of the word “casino” in proponents’ recent statements, which are focused more on the project’s entertainment options, community involvement and economic impact, as opposed to gambling.
Churchill Downs and Urban One’s statement Tuesday said they plan to unveil a new design for the resort in coming weeks.