Richmond Casino Contract With Urban One Terminated, Gaming Opportunity on Hold

The Richmond casino contract with Black-focused media conglomerate Urban One has been terminated.

An artist’s rendering of ONE Casino + Resort in Richmond, Va. The Richmond casino project was defeated by city voters during the November 2021 election. State lawmakers say a second vote on the capital city casino cannot be held until at least November 2023. (Image: ONE Casino + Resort)

The Richmond City Council had hoped to reask city residents to approve a more than half of a billion-dollar integrated casino resort this November. That’s after a similar local ballot referendum question failed during the November 2021 election. Richmond leaders, including Mayor Levar Stoney, believe bringing a casino to the Virginia capital would provide an economic spark to the metro area with new jobs and taxes.

But voters narrowly rejected Urban One’s $565 million project, styled ONE Casino + Resort. The vote was split among more affluent neighborhoods north of the James River that largely opposed the gambling project, with more impoverished communities lending their backing to the Urban One scheme.

Stoney and most city councilors believe a more coordinated effort touting the many benefits ONE Casino might bring Richmond would result in adequate support in 2022. But state lawmakers blocked another vote through a provision included in Virginia’s 2022-2024 biennium budget bill.

Richmond, Urban One Breakup

Richmond was one of five cities that qualified to consider a casino development under legislation passed in 2020 and signed by then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The bill was designed to allow economically struggling cities to jump-start their economies by way of a casino resort.

Richmond, considered the most attractive of the five cities for development, opted to wait a year before asking voters in order to field proposals and determine the best bid forward.

But many in the capital metro believe Richmond got it wrong in going with Urban One, a media company that runs television and radio stations — not casinos — over experienced gaming firms. Notable bidders included Bally’s, Golden Nugget, Live! from The Cordish Companies, and Wind Creek Hospitality.

With ONE Casino + Resort shelved until at least November 2023, Richmond’s contract recognizing Urban One as the city’s preferred casino developer has been tossed.

This Agreement shall be void and of no force and/or effect if a majority of those voting do not approve the Referendum,” Richmond’s host agreement with Urban One orders.

Though Stoney and the Richmond City Council are not folding on their casino goals, the dissolution of the development agreement with Urban One suggests that the city will need to hold another competitive bidding round for a casino referendum in the future.

Bidding Needed

Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins has expressed his hope that Richmond will continue working with his company on its casino ambition. But observers of the political process say another bidding round is likely needed.

State law does not intend for city officials to treat a casino as something they can simply hand out to their political friends for their own personal reasons,” commented political strategist Paul Goldman. “The people of Richmond deserve to be guaranteed a fair process, free from any hint of favoritism, irrespective of how the vote may go on council or in a ballot referendum.”

Numerous local investors involved in the ONE Casino + Resort plan donated heavily to Stoney’s 2020 reelection campaign.

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