Virginia Casino Politics Is A Tale Of Two Cities

Written By Russ Mitchell on August 18, 2022 - Last Updated on August 1, 2023
Virginia casino politics and oe Morrissey

In terms of Virginia casino politics, 25 miles can make a world of difference. Richmond is in casino limbo because of a perfect storm.

Here’s what we mean: State Sen. Joe Morrissey supports a casino in Richmond. But, efforts to move the casino a little south — to his new district — are causing tension with a high-profile media mogul who wants to build in Richmond.

First, some history:

Virginia includes Richmond in list of casino cities

In the spring of 2020, the Virginia General Assembly signed off to allow five cities to bring casinos to the state. Voters in each of the cities had to approve the arrival of a casino with an election vote.

  • Four of the five cities got casino votes on the ballot in the fall of 2020: And, all four bids passed by roughly a 2-to-1 margin. You’ll see casinos going up in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth soon.
  • Lawmakers gave Richmond permission to hold a casino vote too. The city worked with One Resort + Casino on the plans ahead of a 2021 vote. The project was backed by Urban One, which is considered the largest Black-owned media company in the country.
  • Richmond voters opposed the casino bid by a tiny margin. The project received 49% support. But, it needed a majority for construction to begin.

We mentioned at the top that Sen. Morrissey is a casino supporter. He still serves parts of Richmond and — this is important — Petersburg, which is about 25 miles south of the capital city.

One Resort + Casino backers wanted to get a Richmond vote right back on this fall’s 2022 ballot. But, Morrissey used Virginia casino politics to give Petersburg a chance. In fact, he floated a couple of amendments to the Virginia budget.

The first attempt — adding Petersburg to the state’s list of approved casino cities — didn’t work.

But Morrissey did get a second amendment through. It allows the state to block a 2022 Richmond vote while the state conducts a study for Petersburg.

Redrawn senate districts and Virginia casino locations

Keep in mind:

  • Virginia’s redrawn senate districts are forcing Morrissey out of the Richmond portion of his district. He needs a new residence to run in Senate District 13. He won’t still serve Richmond if he wins.
  • A casino 25 miles away will still draw plenty of Richmond gamblers. So, Morrissey wants to look out for his Petersburg constituents — not the ones he’ll leave behind in Richmond.
  • Any Petersburg plans don’t include (or exclude) One Resort + Casino.

Urban One has a relationship with the city of Richmond. Morrissey’s delay — to help a Petersburg bid — isn’t sitting well with the company or its founder and chairperson Cathy Hughes.

She isn’t happy that her former Virginia Senate ally blocked a vote for this fall. And, her company doesn’t have a guarantee in Petersburg — assuming Morrissey even gets that city on the state’s guest list.

C. Suarez Rojas of the Richmond Times-Dispatch was on hand when Urban One executives held a community meeting about the casino.

“We are not going to sit by and watch all of you be deprived of something that this city desperately needs and wants,” Hughes told the Richmond attendees. “He won’t be representing you next year.”

Her son, Alfred Liggins is the current Urban One CEO.

Sen. Morrissey told the Times-Dispatch that Liggins is partly to blame for the Virginia casino politics.

“If she wants to throw me under the bus, fine. Let her do that. But she must necessarily throw her son under it, too.”

A disagreement of biblical proportions

The senator said Liggins pitched a One Resort + Casino move to Petersburg soon after Richmond voters rejected the casino. Again from the Times-Dispatch:

“I did the right thing and said ‘no,'” Morrissey said. “We’re going to get the best casino operator. … There’s no backroom deals. The best quarterback starts Sunday afternoon.”

Hughes, on the other hand, used a different analogy. At the community meeting in early August she said:

“I hope you all understand that Joe Morrissey is a very shrewd politician. Very soon, however, I see myself as David. And, with the power of God, I’m going to kill a giant.”

Hughes and Urban One could load their sling with some political clout. Morrissey will face former Virginia Del. Lashrecse Aird in a Democratic primary next year. That means Hughes could exact some political payback by backing Sen. Morrissey’s opponent.

If Hughes gets 2023 voters to support Richmond plans, the $656 million One Resort + Casino would feature about 1,800 slot machines and 100 table games. Developers have 250 hotel rooms and a live entertainment stage in the plans as well.

Photo by Steve Helber / AP
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell covered news and sports in Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most decorated community newspapers in the state. He joined PlayIA as a lead writer and managing editor in 2021. He anxious to explore the growing Virginia gaming industry.

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