Richmond Casino Referendum Dropped, Developers Cite State Concerns

The Richmond casino referendum that city officials sought for the November 2022 ballot is being delayed by a year.

Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins is foregoing his company’s previous plans to re-ask Richmond voters to sign off on a casino project in the Virginia capital. Liggins and Richmond’s local officials say they will instead hold a second casino ballot referendum during the November 2023 election. (Image: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Richmond was one of five cities the state qualified through 2020 legislation to consider a casino project. Each city is required to ask their local voters to see if they wish to allow a casino project to come to their towns in order to generate an economic spark.

Richmond was the only city of the handful that rejected the opportunity. Richmonders narrowly canned a proposed $565 million casino called One Casino + Resort during the 2021 election.

Richmond officials, including the city council and Mayor Levar Stoney (D), believe the electorate got it wrong. The city government believes a casino is in its best interests and wants to re-ask voters to authorize the commercial gaming initiative.

But state lawmakers, prompted by state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), who has a political grudge with Stoney stemming from his 2016 mayoral loss, have successfully blocked Richmond’s 2022 casino referendum. In the state’s 2022-2024 biennium budget bill, lawmakers included a provision that prevents Richmond from holding a second casino referendum until November 1, 2023.

Clearer Messaging

One Casino + Resort, pitched by Urban One, a Black-focused media conglomerate with no experience building or operating a casino, was selected by the Richmond government to be the city’s preferred casino developer. The plan beat out proposals from highly experienced gaming operators such as Bally’s, Golden Nugget, and The Cordish Companies.

Urban One’s selection raised some eyebrows. And the company’s ballot campaign, at least in hindsight, was ineffective.

Urban One focused as much on being a minority-owned company and possibly becoming the first Black-owned commercial casino operator in the United States as it did on presenting the economic benefits that the destination would provide the region.

The November 2021 casino referendum vote was largely split among demographic lines. More affluent neighborhoods voted against the project, while poorer parts of town — including the Southside where One Casino was to be built along I-95 — voted in the affirmative. The vote narrowly went against the casino 51% to 49%.

Morrissey convinced his State Capitol colleagues that the state should consider allowing Petersburg, which is just south of Richmond, to consider hosting Richmond’s casino. The senator persuaded state lawmakers to include the budget provision blocking Richmond from re-asking its residents about a casino for a year in order to allow the state to study the merits of relocating the gaming license to Petersburg through additional legislation.

Casino Developer Folds

With state law trumping city ordinances, Richmond officials this week conceded that their planned 2022 casino referendum would encounter legal challenges should voters opt to support the project. As a result, the city is foregoing the 2022 gaming question.

Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins said the budget language “has created a conflict … and a huge cloud of doubt” over the merits of holding a 2022 referendum. The city subsequently announced its withdrawal of the casino question for 2022.

“The City of Richmond, at the request of our longstanding community partner, Urban One, is preparing to file a petition to remove the casino referendum from the November 2022 ballot. Understanding Urban One’s reasoning, the city stands ready to move the proposed One Casino + Resort forward in 2023,” a city statement explained.

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