Second Richmond casino referendum is off ballots
Urban One, city officials vow to fight state amendment
The Virginia General Assembly’s two-year budget, which was passed by both houses Thursday and sent to the governor, includes a provision that would delay a second casino vote in Richmond, where voters defeated a referendum last year. The language would not allow the referendum to appear on Richmond’s ballots until November 2023 — leaving the door open for a possible casino in Petersburg instead.
However, Richmond city officials and casino developer Urban One Inc. are not letting this happen without a fight.
In a joint statement Thursday, the Maryland-based company and the city said that the state budget amendment “seeks to unconstitutionally invalidate a final court order and inappropriately constrain the Virginia Lottery in fulfilling its regulatory authority in the same manner it has done for other casinos.” Urban One says it plans to “partner with the city of Richmond, including through litigation, to ensure that the people of Richmond have the final say on what happens in their community and that the rule of law is protected.”
An amended statement Thursday from Urban One and the city added the phrase “if necessary” after the mention of potential litigation.
The proposed November referendum, which was passed 8-1 by Richmond City Council and approved by a Richmond Circuit Court judge in March, would be the city’s second attempt to get voters to approve Urban One’s $565 million ONE Casino + Resort. In November 2021, a 1,200-vote majority of city voters defeated the original measure — making Richmond the only one of five Virginia cities to reject a casino project since they were legalized in 2020.
However, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and most of the City Council have continued to pursue the project, although state Sen. Joe Morrissey, who represents Petersburg and parts of Richmond, has pushed since last November to allow a casino in Petersburg. CEO Alfred Liggins of Urban One, which owns 55 radio stations and a cable network, did not receive assurance from Petersburg’s mayor that the company would be the “preferred vendor” there, Morrissey said in February, leading the company to join forces with Richmond officials.
Democrat Morrissey’s bill to get the state’s approval for a Petersburg casino referendum on the city’s ballot was killed in a Senate committee during the General Assembly’s regular session. Morrissey’s hopes remained alive, though, with the state budget amendment — added during negotiations in recent weeks — that would force Richmond to wait until 2023 for a second referendum vote, and move forward with a Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC) study on a possible Petersburg casino.
“We’re disappointed the Virginia General Assembly has amended the state budget in a way that will deliberately harm the city of Richmond by denying economic opportunities for its residents,” Stoney said in a statement Thursday. “Our City Council voted 8-1 and the circuit court has ordered that Richmond voters should have the opportunity to be heard on this issue this November. We are still assessing our legal options, but remain firm in our belief that the citizens of Richmond should not be disenfranchised just months before they would have the opportunity to vote.”
Billed as the nation’s only Black-owned casino and resort, the proposed project was expected to produce an anticipated 1,300 jobs, as well as a $25.5 million upfront payment to the city government. ONE Casino + Resort was to feature 250 hotel rooms, a 3,000-seat theater, 100,000 square feet of gaming space, 15 bars and restaurants, and a 15,000-square-foot soundstage for Urban One film, TV and radio productions.