Voters in Virginia’s capital will likely have a second Richmond casino referendum.
On Monday, the Richmond City Council voted 8-1 in favor of putting the initiative back on the ballot this November. Last year, the city’s electorate narrowly defeated a nearly identical initiative when 51.2% voted against it.
However, this time around, Mayor Levar Stoney is offering an incentive for voters to pass the initiative.
Tax cuts in exchange for second Richmond casino referendum
In advance of the city council vote, Stoney proposed a 2% cut to the city’s property tax if voters change their minds.
Stoney’s proposed cuts take effect only if the initiative passes at the polls. If there is no second Richmond casino referendum, there is no discount on real estate.
On the surface, it may not seem like that would be enough to sway the minds of voters. But it’s important to note the margin of defeat and the geographic split of the vote.
In a city with more than 232,000 residents, just 1,500 votes ultimately nixed the proposed $560 million One Casino + Resort. Furthermore, most of those “no” votes came from the West End, North Side, East End and downtown.
Home values in those areas are much higher than the South Richmond area, where the casino would be constructed. Therefore, a tax cut on property values could be the perfect catalyst for changing minds.
There was already near-unanimous support for the casino in precincts surrounding the proposed location.
Officials have projected that the casino would bring 1,300 full-time jobs and $25.2 million in immediate revenue to the city. In a statement before the Richmond City Council vote, Stoney doubled down on the economic opportunities the casino would bring to the city:
“Our residents deserve tax relief and access to good jobs. They want public infrastructure improvements and more funding for school capital projects. This project provides a unique opportunity to do just that. I know City Council is committed to creating opportunities that uplift and support all Richmond residents, and I’m hopeful tonight’s vote affirms that shared commitment.”
Richmond casino would be only black-owned gaming operation in US
Richmond ranks fifth in Virginia in terms of population. As a result, several major gaming companies expressed interest in building the property. Ultimately, the city chose the Maryland-based media company Urban One to build the ONE Casino + Resort.
Founder and chairperson Catherine Hughes, as well as president and CEO Alfried Liggins, own 90% of the company. With the mother-son combo at the helm, ONE Casino + Resort would become the only black-owned casino in the country.
Since it was the company’s first casino venture, it partnered with gaming company Peninsula Pacific Entertainment to develop the casino. PPE already has a presence in Virginia as it owns the Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums in the state, as well as the Colonial Downs racetrack.
Critics argue people have already spoken
Despite the support of the Richmond City Council, there are still several critics of a re-do on the casino.
Sen. Joe Morrisey, D-Richmond, recently drafted a bill that would block his constituents from voting on the issue a second time. Additionally, the legislation would open the door for a casino in Petersburg, located just 25 miles south of Richmond.
Morrisey told a local media outlet that a second Richmond referendum would be undemocratic and redundant.
Other critics have made similar claims. For example, an organizer for the left-leaning political group Richmond For All told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the second vote is a common strategy for failed casinos. As Allan-Charles Chipman said:
“It is a frequent tactic of casinos once they lose in democratic processes to try and break the will of the people with consecutive referendums. They believe the house always wins the vote too.”
Timeline for VA casinos
The Richmond City Council still needs to petition the circuit court to get the issue back on the ballot in November, so nothing is guaranteed yet.
But when could a Richmond casino open if everything goes as planned?
In 2020, voters in Danville, Norfolk, Bristol and Portsmouth voted in favor of bringing brick-and-mortar casino gambling to their cities. Here are their expected opening dates:
|City||Casino||Projected Opening Date|
|Bristol||Hard Rock Casino and Resort Bristol||Mid-2022 (temporary casino), 2023 (full casino)|
|Danville||Caesars Casino Resort Danville||Q4, 2023|
|Norfolk||HeadWaters Resort & Casino||Q4, 2023|
|Portsmouth||Rivers Portsmouth Casino Resort||Early 2023|
If One Casino + Resort takes a similar path to construction as its four Virginia counterparts, a best-case scenario is an opening in mid-2024. However, a 2025 grand opening looks like the more likely scenario.