Council Meeting Suggests Opposition To Casino In Richmond May Be Formidable

Posted on July 10, 2020 - Last Updated on August 21, 2020

If events from the latest Richmond City Council meeting are indicative of larger sentiment in the city, an upcoming referendum on a potential Richmond casino may fall short. At the very least, broad support for the casino plans isn’t overwhelmingly obvious.

The council commissioned a new study on the area where developers want to construct the facility. Those findings, along with expressed negative sentiment, could sway November’s vote.

Added scrutiny for the Richmond casino proposal

Several components of a future casino on Richmond’s south side are already in place. This includes a location for the proposed $350 million gaming and hotel complex.

The Pamunkey Tribe plans to construct the facility on Commerce Road, just south of Ingram Avenue. Along with the casino and hotel, the plans designate an industrial mixed-use district along Commerce as well.

As both areas sit in the district of City Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, she has been active on this front of late. She was successful in adding the proposals to the city’s Richmond 300 project.

The Richmond 300 project is a broader developmental project for the entire south side of Richmond. Including the casino proposal in this project subjects it to the same public comment period every other part of the Richmond 300 program receives. This includes discussion of the project’s effects on the city.

Robertson didn’t stop there, however. She also requested the council commission a study specifically on the impact of redeveloping the very area that the Pamunkey tribe wants to build the casino in. The rest of the council granted her request.

It’s uncertain whether either motion will alter or delay the tribe’s development. As a matter of fact, that’s somewhat of secondary concern right now. Before the tribe can look toward actually breaking ground, the city’s voters must clear the way at the ballot box.

Pessimistic neighbors for the proposed casino

At the last city council meeting, Robertson shared concerns from her constituents. Some people who live in her district also voiced worries about the casino plans themselves.

The tone of the comments was negative. Residents of the area voiced trepidation over increased traffic and desires to see the area’s redevelopment tend toward other uses, like grocery stores.

While these voices may not succeed in swaying city council members, they will ultimately be heard this November. Richmond is one of five Virginia cities where voters will decide for themselves whether to allow casinos in their backyards.

Should the referendum fail, the Pamunkey Tribe’s plans would be all for naught, at least in Richmond. To date, there have been no major voter education campaigns opposing the referendum.

If the sentiments of the few who appeared at the council meeting grow, they could signal trouble for everyone hoping for a Richmond casino. It’s important to note that the vote will happen city-wide, not just in the immediately affected areas.

The Pamunkey Tribe and others interested in seeing the casino project go forward may have greater allies elsewhere in the city. Citizens in the immediate area, however, appear hesitant if not resistant to the idea.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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