Judge (Almost) Clears Way For Second Richmond Casino Referendum

Written By Dann Stupp on March 22, 2022 - Last Updated on August 1, 2023
Southside Richmond casino

A judge has ordered a referendum for a southside Richmond casino to be back on the ballot this year.

The order could clear the way for Richmond voters to decide – once again – if they want a casino in the Virginia capital city.

It’s the latest development in what has now become a years-long effort to bring casino gambling to Richmond.

However, the second attempt at a referendum for the southside Richmond casino isn’t a lock. Not yet, anyway. And not if some key folks in nearby Petersburg have anything to say about it.

Plenty of support for southside Richmond casino

Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant granted the city’s request for a second Richmond casino referendum on Monday.

Richmond was one of five Virginia cities that lawmakers designated for a casino referendum. Four cities – Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth – passed their individual referendum in 2020 by overwhelming margins. Now, that quartet of future Virginia casinos are in the early stages of construction.

However, when Richmond had its opportunity in 2021, voters narrowly struck down the proposed $562.5 million ONE Casino + Resort. There were many possible reasons for Richmond’s reluctance, including its location in south Richmond. However, many officials never gave up hope.

In January, the Richmond City Council voted to pursue a second referendum. Eighth District City Councilwoman Reva Trammel has been one of the project’s biggest advocates.

As Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who’s also long been a proponent of the project’s potential benefits, stated:

“This special economic development opportunity in South Richmond gives the city an additional way to address equity and community wealth gaps. As the city continues to work on diversity, equity, and inclusion, the casino project can assist with leveling the playing field for many Richmonders who continue to struggle during these uncertain and unprecedented times.”

Richmond would receive a $25 million upfront payment from Urban One, a Maryland-based media conglomerate that submitted the winning proposal for the project. Officials say that ONE Casino + Resort could generate $30 million in annual tax revenue. It would also create 1,500 full-time jobs, as well as thousands of temporary construction jobs.

Possible Petersburg casino potentially in play

With the judge’s order, the following question could be on Richmond ballots on Election Day, Nov. 8:

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?

However, the Richmond casino referendum do-over isn’t yet a lock. After all, Petersburg officials are also pursuing a casino. More specifically, they’re pursuing a casino referendum while also trying to block Richmond from hosting a second one.

In February, the Virginia Senate Finance Committee blocked Petersburg, a city of 31,000, from hosting a referendum. However, the Senate’s proposed state budget includes a provision that would block the Richmond casino from appearing on the ballot. The provision would require a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission study to determine the viability of a Petersburg casino before Richmond can vote.

The General Assembly has yet to reach an agreement on the latest budget. State Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, who’s championed a Petersburg casino, told Richmond.com that a moratorium would overrule the judge’s order if the budget is passed.

“The budget is a law,” he said. “That law supersedes any city ordinance or court order.”

Photo by Shutterstock / Sean Pavone
Dann Stupp Avatar
Written by
Dann Stupp

Dann Stupp is a longtime sports journalist who’s written and edited for The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN, MLB.com and other outlets. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

View all posts by Dann Stupp