Richmond casino rejected by voters
Urban One Inc., city mayor acknowledge referendum's defeat
Updated 4:20 p.m. Wednesday
Richmond voters on Tuesday rejected the proposed $565 million ONE Casino + Resort by about a 1,200-vote margin. The project’s developer, Silver Spring, Maryland-based media company Urban One Inc., acknowledged the referendum’s defeat in a statement Wednesday, as did the city’s mayor.
With “no” votes outnumbering yeses, Richmond became the only one of five eligible economically challenged Virginia cities to turn down the opportunity to build a casino.
Billed as the nation’s only Black-owned casino and resort, the project was projected 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.
Just over 51.4% of Richmond voters said no to the measure, a 1,200-vote margin, according to Virginia Department of Elections’ unofficial results, compared to 48.56% who supported the referendum. A spokesperson for Urban One Inc. said late Tuesday the company would hold off until all votes are counted unless the numbers proved a victory impossible. That appeared to be the case Wednesday morning.
“While extremely disappointed, our entire Urban One family, my mother and business partner, Cathy Hughes, and I accept the will of city of Richmond residents,” Urban One CEO Alfred C. Liggins III said in a statement. “For the last two years, we have worked so hard to build a large and inclusive tent with our ONE Casino + Resort project. We had a lot of loyal supporters who worked tirelessly on behalf of this project and for whom we will be eternally grateful. We ran a robust campaign and strongly believe this is a huge missed opportunity for Richmond residents to have a tourist attraction that would have provided the financial resources to improve schools and roads as well as enrich the lives of its citizens. Urban One has been a part of the fabric of Richmond for the last 22 years, and we will continue our tradition of serving the community.”
The company’s stock saw a 37.6% fall in share values Wednesday afternoon, from a high of $7 Tuesday at closing to about $4.50 per share as of early Wednesday afternoon.
The media company, which owns 55 radio stations and a cable network, promised to spend $50 million on productions in Richmond and also planned to partner with Virginia Union University and Reynolds Community College for workforce training. Urban One predicted the casino would have a $5.7 billion economic impact during its first 10 years. Urban One owns four radio stations broadcast in Richmond.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also issued a statement Wednesday morning. “From the beginning, we said the people would decide. They have spoken, and we must respect their decision. While I believe this was a $565 million opportunity lost to create well-paying jobs, expand opportunity, keep taxes low and increase revenue to meet the needs of our growing city, I am proud of the transparent and public process we went through to listen to our residents and put this opportunity before our voters.”
Richmond For All, the main opposition group to the casino, also said the numbers were too close to call late Tuesday night but struck a triumphant tone in a statement. The group later claimed victory in a statement issued just before midnight.
“I am so proud of our organization and our city,” Political Director Quinton Robbins said in the second statement. “We proved that an organized grassroots can defeat moneyed interests. We believe in knocking on doors and talking to our neighbors. That’s what made the difference.”
Robbins said that he was “extremely proud” of the city for rejecting the referendum, noting that his organization claimed victory after seeing that there were fewer provisional votes to be counted than originally thought, leaving the casino’s promoters with basically no path to victory.
The voting breakdown was primarily “no” north of the James River — in most of Richmond’s wealthier neighborhoods — and “yes” on the city’s South Side, where the casino would have been built. “I think the signal that it sends is that the South Side needs more economic development,” Robbins said.
The casino faced some pushback from residents who said it would not lead to further promised economic development and could potentially cause traffic and crime problems. However, there was more resistance against other casino proposals — including two from Bally’s and The Cordish Cos. that neighbors picketed before a city-chosen casino panel discarded those proposals early this year.
But Urban One, which teamed with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, which owns Colonial Downs Group and the Rosie’s Gaming Emporium franchise, planned to build the casino on 100 acres owned by Henrico County-based Altria Group Inc. off Interstate 95 in a largely industrial sector of the city. Most of the “not in my backyard” complaints were quieted by that location’s selection.
However, other concerns were raised, including increased crime, traffic and doubts that the project would lead to other economic development in the area, which is among Richmond’s more impoverished districts.
Urban One pulled out all the stops in campaigning for what would have been its first majority-owned casino, spending more than $2 million on mailers and advertising. Stoney publicly backed the casino, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, Oscar winner Jamie Foxx and civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton. A former Richmond City Council candidate, Allan-Charles Chipman, was an outspoken opponent of the casino, saying it would exploit poor people in a historically disadvantaged area of the city.
Richmond was the last of five economically challenged Virginia cities to vote on a casino referendum after the Virginia General Assembly allowed Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond to have one commercial casino per locality if approved by local voters. The other four cities passed referendums with large margins in 2020, and their casinos are expected to be finished in late 2022 and 2023.