Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant recently cleared the air about whether residents will be able to vote on becoming the fifth Virginia city to open a casino.
Marchant’s ruling came as a response to a motion filed by local charity group Lodge No. 1 of the Good Lions to block the referendum.
The judge rejected the Richmond casino motion soundly, saying the group was fighting the wrong foe.
Lodge No. 1’s motion failed to hold water, judge rules
Now, it’s up to Richmond voters to support or reject a new Virginia casino referendum on the ballot this November. Online casinos remain illegal in the commonwealth.
Lodge No. 1 filed its motion in mid-August, bringing about a three-day pause on Marchant’s July ruling. The judge had approved the casino referendum for a November vote. The motion by the Good Lions made two claims.
Claims of no competitive bidding process and future loss of gaming revenue shot down
The charity group’s main complaint was that the city did not conduct a competitive bidding process when it selected RVA Entertainment Holdings as its preferred casino operator. Marchant gave both sides – the charity and the city – three days to present their cases to the court.
RVA, a joint venture between Urban One and Churchill Downs, was the chosen operator for Richmond’s 2021 casino referendum, which voters shot down by just 1,200 votes. This time around, RVA revealed updated plans for the proposed resort. Citing the new plans, Lodge No. 1 sought to bring down the referendum on the grounds that it faced no competition.
Lodge No. 1 also claimed it would lose revenue to the new casino. As a charity, it runs bingo games twice a week to generate proceeds. It said a Richmond casino would bring about a loss in charitable income, presumably from losing customers to the new casino.
Marchant basically ruled that the lodge’s complaint against the Richmond casino project was misplaced.
“Good Lions’ challenge to the City Council’s no bid/no notice process for selecting an operator of the casino, where Good Lions does not seek to be the operator, is not a challenge of government action fairly traceable to its expected loss of revenue.
“Arguably, Good Lions’ alleged future loss of gaming revenue might be fairly traceable to the 2019 legislation of the Virginia General Assembly allowing casino gambling, but that government action is not what Good Lions seeks to challenge.”
The case strengthens for Richmond casino
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, an outspoken supporter of the casino project, spoke favorably of the City Council’s decision.
Stoney said the casino would bring an estimated 1,300 new jobs and $30 million in annual revenue.
“On top of adding to Richmond’s record development and growth, this project will change the economic trajectory of South Side [Richmond] for years to come.”
November will bring about Richmond’s second chance at passing casino legislation after voters decided against it in 2021. Since then, four other cities have passed retail casino initiatives, and three casinos have begun generating significant revenue in their respective locales.
June’s casino revenue totaled more than $52 million, resulting in $6.3 million in state taxes.
- Rivers Casino Portsmouth: $20.5 million
- Caesars Danville Casino: $18.9 million
- HR Bristol: $12.7 million
While signs point to increased support in 2023, Richmond residents will have the final say.
What’s next for casino opposition?
After failing to make its case to the Richmond City Council, Lodge No. 1 has two-plus months to gain the minds and hearts of the public.
Much of RVA’s “new plans” are the same as the ones voters turned down two years ago. The charity stands a chance at maintaining the status quo if it can show why the proposed casino plans are still insufficient.
Its efforts will likely focus on increasing its voice and footprint to challenge casino support. Fairfax County state Sen. Chap Peterson is the charity’s lawyer and represents at least one relevant figure opposing the new casino.
Two months is a short time, though. If it wants to defeat the casino referendum, Lodge No. 1 needs to find as many supporters as possible and mobilize its efforts through local advertising, door-to-door canvassing and getting its message out to the community.
Rest assured, proponents of the casino resort will be doing the same.