UPDATE (Aug. 24, 2023): This effort was blocked by a state court, and the Richmond casino referendum will go on the ballot as planned.
Voters in Richmond rejected a proposal to bring a casino to their city in 2021 by a narrow 1,200 votes. Recently, proponents were able to get a Circuit Court judge to allow a referendum on November’s ballot to once again ask voters to approve the casino resort.
A local charitable group, however, aims to block another vote. Lodge No. 1 of the Good Lions, a branch of Lions Club International, has filed a motion to reverse the judge’s order and remove the referendum from the ballot.
Among other claims, the group says officials violated competitive bidding laws on the project.
Group contends Richmond casino would hurt charitable efforts
There are three Virginia casinos now successfully operating, two of them temporary ones while permanent resorts are being built. Only five casinos have been approved to operate in the state, while Virginia online casinos are prohibited.
Supporters of a Richmond casino are optimistic that the outcome of the casino vote will be different this time around. The Good Lions are not taking any chances. In the motion filed Aug. 10, the group asks the judge to allow it to make its case against the casino referendum. The motion is expected to be granted.
The group argues that a casino would hinder its charitable efforts. Lodge No. 1 hosts gaming events at a bingo hall twice a week for charity. The group believes players are apt to skip the Good Lions charity games for the bright lights of a new casino.
The motion also contends that Richmond public servants violated the state constitution’s competitive bidding laws. The 2021 casino plans were approved via a formal process. In 2023, however, Richmond officials did not allow a complete bidding process, which Good Lions claims is illegal.
Good Lions are not the only ones against a casino in Richmond.
Richmond-based political strategist Paul Goldman has also raised concerns over the bidding process. He had considered suing earlier this year to keep Richmond from voting on the casino but has since pulled back.
“[They’re] making as good a case as anybody can make. And if the court won’t accept Good Lions as an intervener, they wouldn’t accept me.”
Richmond mayor supports casino project
After narrowly having its casino and hotel plans vanquished by Richmond voters in 2021, RVA Entertainment Holdings, a joint venture by Urban One Inc. and Churchill Downs Inc., changed its messaging as it prepared for a 2023 vote. Instead of pitching the idea of a casino, the company is now calling ONE Casino and Resort a destination resort.
The resort’s original plans featured a gaming floor that spans over 100,000 square feet. It was expected to house over 1,800 slot machines, more than 100 table games, a sportsbook and a poker room. Beyond the casino, the Legacy Tower complex would include 250 hotel rooms to go with a business center, fitness room and 55 acres of green space. The plans also will include creating Rise Theater for live performances and 15 restaurants and bars.
The total project was expected to cost $565 million in 2021, when it narrowly failed at the ballot box.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney strongly supports the project.
“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.”
Stoney said putting the casino in South Richmond will bring economic improvement to an area that badly needs it.
“This special economic development opportunity in South Richmond gives the city an additional way to address equity and community wealth gaps. As the city continues to work on diversity, equity and inclusion, the casino project can assist with leveling the playing field for many Richmonders who continue to struggle during these uncertain and unprecedented times.”