How A Casino Forced Restaurateur Chris Tsui To Resign From VA Lottery Board

Posted on July 26, 2021

Famed Richmond restaurateur Chris Tsui is no longer a member of the Virginia Lottery Board, and it’s due to the city’s possible new casino.

This past week during a Virginia Lottery Board meeting, VA Lotto Executive Director Kevin Hall confirmed Tsui had resigned his position in February.

His resignation came 16 days after a Feb. 3 meeting to adopt emergency regulations for the new Virginia casinos. During the meeting, Tsui said he had to abstain from voting.

As he explained, the chosen casino operator for Richmond (Urban One in conjunction with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment) had approached Tsui about being a part of the project.

That created a potential conflict of interest and subsequent resignation.

“He did absolutely the right thing by making us aware and then being willing to step aside,” Hall said during the latest meeting.

Chris Tsui is in demand

If voters formally approve the project in November, the $560 million One Casino + Resort will feature a host of attractions. In addition to casino gaming and a sportsbook, the property is expected to have 15 bars and restaurants when it opens in 2024.

That led project representatives to reach out to Chris Tsui.

The rationale is understandable. Tsui, a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate, is the president of EAT Restaurant Partners, which operates 13 restaurants in the Richmond area. He’s also one of the better-known names when it comes to Richmond-area dining and hospitality.

Was the contact appropriate, though? After all, Tsui is a member of the Virginia Lottery Board, which will play a significant role in shaping the Virginia casino industry. The tasks include licensing and regulating the casinos, including ones already approved in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth.

ONE spokesman Mark Hubbard of McGuireWoods Consulting told Richmond.com‘s Michael Martz that their intentions were straightforward with Tsui:

“We approached him solely as a leading restaurateur in the city. He informed us of his lottery relationship during the process and his intent to appropriately address it, which he has.”

During last week’s meeting, Virginia Lottery General Counsel Amy Dilworth used the situation to caution other board members.

The primary takeaway? Don’t put yourself in a situation that could be “interpreted as a conflict or even the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Current Virginia Lottery Board members include

  • Ferhan Hamid (chairman)
  • Cynthia Lawrence (vice-chairman)
  • Vonda Collins, Orrin Gallop
  • Kimberly Martin
  • Scott Price.

Tsui undecided on One Casino + Resort involvement

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam appointed Chris Tsui to the Virginia Lottery Board in 2018. His five-year term, which succeeded Frederick Helm’s, was set to expire in January 2023.

The commonwealth bars VA Lottery Board members from any investment in a casino gaming operation.

Despite his resignation, though, Tsui is still undecided on his possible involvement with One Casino + Resort. The project, which beat out five other competing proposals, has a number of investors listed on its website. Tsui is one of them.

However, Tsui told Richmond.com he hasn’t invested any money or committed to running a restaurant in the casino-resort. Still, he couldn’t remain on the Virginia Lottery Board while he decided.

“If I’m going to entertain it, that’s why I stepped down,” he said.

For now, EAT Restaurant Partners is likely to keep him plenty busy. The group’s list of eateries includes Osaka Sushi & Steak, Fat Dragon, The Blue Goat, Wild Ginger, Pizza & Beer of Richmond, and others.

Photo by Dreamsite / Andrey Popov
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Dann Stupp

Dann Stupp is a longtime sports journalist who’s written and edited for The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN and other outlets. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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