The city of Richmond is getting a do-over.
A new proposal to bring a casino to the Virginia capital will be on the November ballot after gaining approval from the Virginia Lottery and Richmond Circuit Court. Voters narrowly defeated a similar referendum in 2021.
Developer RVA Entertainment Holdings LLC will reveal new designs for the proposed casino in the next few weeks. After that, it’s a matter of garnering voter support for a project that lost by just 1,200 votes two years ago.
City of Richmond will receive $25.5M if referendum passes in November
Virginia gambling legislation allows for five casinos, one each in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond. Virginia online casinos remain prohibited.
RVA Entertainment is a joint operation between Urban One Inc. and Churchill Downs, Inc. If the casino in Richmond is approved, RVA would construct a $562.5 million property dubbed ONE Casino and Resort on the city’s southern end.
The Richmond City Council had brokered a deal with RVA and Richmond VA Management LLC, which will manage the casino, to pay the city $25.5 million if the referendum passes this year, so that’s now in play. RVA will also pay the city a $1 million bonus payment once the casino’s financing closes.
How we got here
Richmond’s attempts to bring a casino to the city have been mired by obstacles and failures over the past few years. A proposed Richmond casino – with Urban ONE to develop the property – was shut down by voters in 2021.
Following that failure, some Virginians sought to give a nearby city a chance. For a brief time, Petersburg was considered as a possible site, but nothing came of it.
In March 2022, a judge authorized a second Richmond referendum. The vote didn’t happen that November, however. A budget amendment delayed it to 2023.
Meanwhile, three of the other four Virginia cities have moved forward with their casino projects. Permanent or temporary casinos are currently operating in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth. Developers hope to begin construction on a casino in Norfolk by the end of this year. Rivers Portsmouth recently welcomed its millionth customer.
Casino proponents must convince voters of project’s viability
Though the Richmond redux gives hope to some, it still faces a fair share of opposition.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney told Virginia Business that he’s all-in for the casino.
“I am excited to see the Virginia Lottery and the Richmond Circuit Court approve the referendum for a Richmond destination resort and entertainment venue that will provide 1,300 good-paying jobs and an estimated $30 million in annual revenue to tackle our community’s greatest needs.”
Opponents of the casino say this repeat is unnecessary, considering Richmond voters made their voices heard on the proposed casino in 2021. Virginia state Sen. Joe Morrissey attempted to prevent another vote by closing the loophole that allowed a new referendum, but his efforts were unsuccessful.
Urban One, meanwhile, is thrilled to have another opportunity, CEO Alfred Liggins said.
“We are ready to elevate our 20-year-plus relationship with Richmonders by presenting opportunities for real economic impact.”
RVI seems to be framing the casino project as an entertainment complex this time around. According to Virginia Business, recent statements eschew the word “casino” as much as possible, focusing on entertainment and amenities instead of gambling.
The potential economic impact of a Richmond casino
New casinos have a tangible impact on their host cities, but there are pros and cons. Some estimates say Caesars Danville could bring a financial windfall to the city within its first year based on its first month of operating a temporary property. That first month brought in $12 million to the casino, $2.1 million of which went to the state in taxes. Danville received $716,000.
However, the flip side of that coin is the local impact. Some speculate the Danville casino contributes to rising rents in the city. Officials, however, say the casino’s role in such increases is minor.