Richmond City Council passes casino legislation — again
Urban One, Churchill Downs chosen as preferred operator
Richmond City Council on Monday selected RVA Entertainment Holdings LLC — a joint venture between Urban One Inc. and Churchill Downs Inc. — as the city’s preferred casino operator, one of several administrative steps the city must take before a mulligan casino referendum lands on ballots in November, asking voters to reconsider allowing the proposed $562.5 million ONE Casino + Resort to be built in Richmond.
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.
The three items were approved in Monday’s consent agenda.
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 under development in Norfolk.
However, Richmond voters rejected the proposed ONE Casino + Resort in November 2021 by a 1,200-vote margin.
The wording of the state law legalizing casinos did not bar a second referendum after the first one failed, allowing a second bite of the apple in Richmond. But Petersburg officials, including state Sen. Joe Morrissey, were hoping to bring Cordish Cos.’ proposed casino to their city and unsuccessfully tried to pass legislation that would have given them a casino referendum instead of Richmond. That bill’s failure cleared the way for Richmond voters to take a do-over casino vote this fall.
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. In his presentation at last week’s Richmond City Council Organizational Development Standing Committee, Sledge said that the temporary Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol brought in $7.9 million in tax revenue since it opened in July 2022, and the Rivers Casino in Portsmouth, has yielded $4.7 million in tax revenue since its January opening.
Urban One Inc. CEO Alfred Liggins III and Joseph Quinn, chief counsel for Churchill Downs, both spoke at the June 5 committee meeting to encourage city councilors to give the project another chance — a formality, given that six out of nine council members are serving as patrons for the ordinances, along with Mayor Levar Stoney.
The board’s organizational committee voted June 5 to recommend approval of the three pieces of legislation, although one council member, Katherine Jordan, who also opposed the casino in 2021, voted against it both at the committee meeting last week and the full council meeting Monday.
Several supporters of a second referendum — chiefly local union members advocating for more jobs — spoke during the public hearing segment of the committee meeting, but only one casino opponent spoke, noting that the city’s voters had already made their feelings known in the first vote in 2021.
City Councilor Reva Trammell, a steadfast casino booster, said, “It’s a referendum. Yes, we have the right to have another one.”
Following Monday’s votes, the council will next petition Richmond Circuit Court to place the referendum on November ballots.