The opposition won out with Richmond casino voting and nixed the $560 million One Casino + Resort following what looks to be a razor-thin result.
Throughout Election Night, Nov. 2, the prospects of a casino in the southside of the Virginia capital city weren’t looking good.
Voting for the casino referendum remained too close to call throughout Tuesday and into early Wednesday morning. But as midday approached, key Virginia casino proponents had essentially conceded that the effort had failed.
Richmond casino voting fails
Urban One, a Maryland-based media conglomerate, teamed with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment on the One Casino + Resort project. PPE, which operates Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums and the Colonial Downs racetrack in Virginia, would’ve assisted on the casino gaming side of the project.
With Tuesday’s Richmond casino voting, though, the project appeared dead in the water the following day.
In a statement emailed to PlayVirginia, Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins III stated:
“While extremely disappointed, our entire Urban One family, my mother and business partner Cathy Hughes, and I accept the will of city of Richmond residents. For the last two years, we have worked so hard to build a large and inclusive tent with our One Casino + Resort project. We had a lot of loyal supporters who worked tirelessly on behalf of this project and for whom we will be eternally grateful. We ran a robust campaign and strongly believe this is a huge missed opportunity for Richmond residents to have a tourist attraction that would have provided the financial resources to improve schools and roads as well as enrich the lives of its citizens. Urban One has been a part of the fabric of Richmond for the last twenty-two years, and we will continue our tradition of serving the community.”
One Casino + Resort would’ve become the only majority Black-owned casino in the US, but the casino referendum needed a simple majority to pass. As of 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 37,599 (48.6%) had voted for the proposal while 39,824 (51.4%) voted against it. That’s a difference of 2,225 votes.
According to WRIC.com, 2,373 outstanding mail-in ballots remained, with another 550 provisional ballots to be counted. In other words, even if the overwhelming majority of those remaining ballots voted yes, it likely wouldn’t be enough to make up the difference.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney responds
Levar Stoney, Richmond’s mayor, was one of the project’s biggest proponents. In fact, his 2021 mayoral campaign focused heavily on the casino referendum.
Following Tuesday’s Richmond casino voting, though, Stoney released this statement and expressed his disappointment in the results but satisfaction with the process:
“From the beginning, we said the people would decide. They have spoken, and we must respect their decision.
“While I believe this was a $565 million opportunity lost to create well-paying jobs, expand opportunity, keep taxes low and increase revenue to meet the needs of our growing city, I am proud of the transparent and public process we went through to listen to our residents and put this opportunity before our voters.
“I’m deeply appreciative to the members of our economic development team who negotiated this project and to Richmond City Council, which overwhelmingly supported it. Finally, I’d like to thank Cathy Hughes, Alfred Liggins and the entire Urban One Team for being willing to commit to, and invest in, our city. They believe in Richmond, as do we. Rest assured, this administration will not be deterred from its ongoing mission to bring other economic development opportunities to our city that will benefit the lives of all who live here.”
Richmond casino voting
Although little formal polling was conducted prior to Tuesday’s vote, many insiders expected a close vote.
The ballot title for the Richmond Casino Authorization Referendum officially stated:
“Shall casino gaming be permitted at a casino gaming establishment in the city of Richmond, Virginia, at 2001 Walmsley Boulevard and 4700 Trenton Avenue, Richmond, Virginia 23234 as may be approved by the Virginia Lottery Board?:
In 2020 the Virginia General Assembly gave permission to five “economically distressed” cities to hold a casino referendum. Four of the cities voted in 2020 and overwhelmingly supported their proposed Virginia casino projects:
Richmond officials opted to wait until 2021 for their referendum in the city of 227,000. As it turned out, that extra time gave both proponents and opponents more time to argue their cases.
A contentious Richmond casino election
Unlike some other VA cities, Richmond voters saw a heated and sometimes-contentions casino voting campaign. And it wasn’t just the usual concerns about the possibility of gambling addiction. Some residents took issue with the potential casino location and the winning proposal, as well as other details.
High-profile public figures weighed in on the Urban One proposal, which beat out competing proposals from:
- Bally’s Corporation
- The Cordish Co.
- Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos
- Pamunkey Indian Tribe
- Wind Creek Hospitality
Tim Kaine, a Virginia senator and former VA governor, is a Richmond resident, and he voted against the project. The high-profile Virginian said he believed there are “better ways to enhance economic development in Richmond.” The Richmond for All initiative shared a similar sentiment.
However countless other politicians, including both of Virginia’s 2o22 gubernatorial candidates, supported the project. A variety of local businesses, tourism groups, media outlets, and community leaders also pledged support. In fact, in the waning days of the campaign, Grammy winner and Virginia native Missy Elliott, as well as civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, stumped on behalf of the project.
All told, project owners reportedly spent $2 million campaigning for the Richmond casino.
One Casino + Resort details
According to project officials, ONE Casino + Resort would’ve generated $500 million in new tax revenue and other community benefits for the city over the first decade.
Initially, it would’ve created 3,000 temporary constructions jobs, and ultimately, the company would’ve hire 1,500 full-time jobs with an average annual salary and benefits of $55,000.
As for the casino-resort itself, One Casino + Resort was expected to feature:
- A 250-room hotel with the ability to expand to 600 rooms
- A 100,000-square-foot casino with a poker room and sportsbook
- 2,000 slot machines and 100 table games, including favorites such as blackjack and roulette
- More than a dozen bar and restaurants
- A 3,000-seat event center that houses 200 annual concerts and shows
- Resort-style spa and salon
- 55-acre park and green space
- On-site TV and radio production studios
If the referendum had proved successful, Urban One would’ve given a $25.5 million upfront payment to the city once the results were certified.
Next steps following Richmond casino voting
In the days prior to the election, Urban One’s Liggins laid out a timeline for the project.
It included the acquisition of the project construction site from Phillip Morris USA, which currently owns the land, by year’s end. Groundbreaking would’ve commenced in mid-2022 for a tentatively slated for a 2024 opening.
However, with One Casino + Resort now apparently a no-go for Richmond, what’s next?
Liggins hasn’t ruled out the possibility of looking to another central Virginia city as a possible casino host site.
As he told RichmondBizSense.com:
“If it doesn’t pass in the city of Richmond, I believe that the General Assembly will ultimately look to put it in a locality in and around Richmond in Central Virginia in one of the outlying counties that does want it. I do not believe that the General Assembly and the governor will want to leave Central Virginia without a gaming opportunity.
The state has decided this is good for the state from a revenue generation standpoint and they’ve given five localities the opportunities to develop a casino resort, and if Richmond citizens vote no, then it will end up in Henrico or Chesterfield, similar to what happened with the Navy Hill project.”