Did Richmond miss its only chance at a VA casino vote when residents turned away efforts on the 2021 ballot?
If state Sen. Joe Morrissey has any say on the matter, the answer might be yes. Richmond voters didn’t find a casino vote on Tuesday night’s ballot. The influential democrat was a key reason why.
He’s trying to clear a path for a Petersburg vote in 2023 instead. The cities are about 25 miles apart.
To understand the 2023 politics, it helps to understand what happened in 2021 and 2022.
2021: Voters reject a Richmond VA casino vote
In March of 2019, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to create five host casino cities — Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond.
The Virginia gaming industry went 4-for-4 in 2020, but Richmond waited a year for its casino vote.
The city partnered with media conglomerate Urban One on a $565 million One Resort + Casino. Plans called for a south Richmond site near the Philip Morris manufacturing center and I-95.
- It needed majority support for construction to begin, however. Voters turned down the bid in 2021.
- Urban One and Richmond immediately eyed the 2022 General Election for a second try.
That’s when Senator Morrissey entered the picture. His policy work during the 2022 legislative session blocked a second casino vote in Richmond. That set up a hot summer in the Commonwealth.
2022 timeline: Why a Richmond VA casino vote wasn’t on Tuesday’s ballot
June 2022 — The city of Richmond and developers were ready to go to court because of Morrissey’s dealmaking. He added Virginia budget amendment language to keep the door open for a Petersburg casino. The move ultimately blocked any hopes for a Richmond casino vote on Tuesday’s ballot.
“We’re disappointed the Virginia General Assembly has amended the state budget in a way that will deliberately harm the City of Richmond by denying economic opportunities for its residents,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said at the time.
“Our City Council voted 8-1, and the Circuit Court has ordered, that Richmond voters should have the opportunity to be heard on this issue in November. We are still assessing our legal options. But (we) remain firm in our belief that the citizens of Richmond should not be disenfranchised just months before they would have the opportunity to vote.”
Aug. 4, 2022 — One Resort + Casino developers asked the city of Richmond to wait a year before the next casino vote.
After a two-month review, project supporters decided they couldn’t win a lawsuit in time for a fall vote anyway. The company said:
“Despite strong legal arguments to support moving forward in 2022, we have asked our partner, the City of Richmond, to withdraw their petition for a November 2022 ballot referendum. We feel a long protracted legal dispute at this time does not best serve the citizens of Richmond or the State of Virginia. We are now focused on winning the Richmond casino referendum in 2023.”
What’s ahead in 2023
A 77-page report to Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission adds another wrinkle. It makes room for the possibility of casinos for both Richmond and Petersburg.
As the report came out, Petersburg City Council members approved a partnership with Cordish Cos. to develop a Live! Casino in Petersburg.
The Live! plans call for a casino resort on the south side of the city.
Morrissey suggests Cordish will lose interest if Urban One and Richmond gets a casino as well.
At an Oct. 25 meeting, Morrissey told the Petersburg City Council he already introduced legislation to put the city at the front of the line.
“It’s Senate Bill 780 and it will do the following: It will add Petersburg as the fifth and final eligible host city.”
The legislation calls for a Petersburg, VA casino vote. Also, voters in the upstart city would have to pass on a casino before the state gives Richmond another chance.
“If Petersburg prevails in the referendum, Richmond will be eliminated as a potential host city. And it also, finally, designates that the (Petersburg) referendum will be held in November of 2023.”
The Virginia General Assembly will hold a scheduled 30-day session starting on Wednesday, Jan. 11.