The Richmond City Council has approved a casino referendum to appear on the November ballot. Just don’t call it a casino.
Supporters of the measure want voters to see the proposed project not as a casino, but as a “destination resort.”
After voters rejected a 2021 referendum to add a Virginia casino in South Richmond, Richmond’s casino project has dusted itself off, found another operator and is finally taking a crucial step forward.
Richmond casino potentially in the works
It’s been a long path to get to this point. A close vote in 2021 denied Richmond the opportunity to build a new casino. That vote had wider implications than a simple no-go on the location. Some Virginians, including a Richmond newspaper, wanted the city to set the idea aside so Petersburg could give it a go.
Petersburgh is just 25 miles from Richmond.
Petersburg’s plans floundered, too, resigning a new casino in the heart of the Commonwealth to a long delay or even making it an impossibility.
Richmond’s recent vote resurrected the city’s prospects, however. And things might be different this time.
What’s changed since the Virginia casino vote in 2021?
First and foremost, proponents of a Richmond casino are positioning the development as more than just a casino. It’s a resort, an entertainment destination. It may seem like semantics – and on some level it is – but amenities beyond a casino floor can spur the economy and create new jobs, which historically can engage voters.
Otherwise, there aren’t many major differences between this proposal and the one rejected by voters in 2021. One other key difference is the addition of Churchill Downs to the project. CDI will join Urban One to operate the resort, if approved.
Urban One was the previous selection for the 2021 proposal. Churchill Downs brings additional casino expertise, plus a long history of horse racing operations.
Will the Virginia Lottery approve Richmond plans?
The Virginia Lottery is the next hurdle for the proposal. The organization oversees gambling in the state. It must approve the City Council’s plan. If the lottery approves it, the referendum can appear on the 2023 ballot in November.
But will it pass? It’s hard to say.
There’s still plenty of opposition. Some proponents are excited by the prospect of new jobs and revenue. According to VPM, the project could generate 1,300 jobs and average $29.7 million in general fund revenue annually during its first five years of operation.
One obstacle could come in the form of a budget provision.
Last year, the state’s budget featured a provision prohibiting Richmond from re-doing a failed casino vote. Should this year’s budget do the same, the project is as good as dead, at least for another year.