Richmond is now 0-for-2 when it comes to passing measures to bring a casino to Virginia’s capital city. As a result, the city now faces the likelihood of watching the fifth and final Virginia casino license go elsewhere.
Both times, voters shot down a proposal from developer RVA Entertainment Holdings, a joint venture between Urban One and Churchill Downs.
Urban One CEO Alfred C. Liggins recently spoke at the company’s Q2 2023 earnings call and said it’s still recovering operationally from the failed referendum. He also acknowledged that the show must go on with Richmond out of the picture.
While the future is unclear, Liggins did not rule out the possibility of submitting another casino proposal in the future.
Urban One in a holding pattern after failed referendum
Virginia legalized retail casinos in February 2020, allowing five cities to hold casino referendums. Online casinos in Virginia remain illegal.
Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth all passed their referendums and have since opened or begun developing casinos.
Richmond felt differently, which left the door open for the state to select a new bid elsewhere in the commonwealth. Liggins acknowledged this fact during Urban One’s earnings call but added that it’s too early to know whether the company will have the opportunity to enter the discussion.
“That fifth license is going to go somewhere in Virginia. We haven’t gotten focused yet to see if there is any way that we can participate on any level. I don’t know which city it would go to and who the players would be.”
It’s also too soon for Urban One. Liggett said the company “just kind of … came up for air” after the failed referendum. RVA spent more than $9 million on the Richmond campaign – 26 times more than its opponents – and received a crushing blow at the polls. Only 38.4% of voters supported the referendum, while 61.6% rejected it.
Upcoming legislative session should clarify the picture
Urban One will closely monitor developments in the next Virginia legislative session, Liggins said.
“I assume that something will happen in this session. I do know that there is a group of folks that want to propose, and I know that there’s a state senator that is going to propose a bill to put it somewhere in Northern Virginia, like Reston or Tysons. So you got the Northern Virginia, there’s a north – there’s going to be a push for Northern Virginia. I’m hearing that the city of Petersburg is interested again and would like to try to get it there as they did last go-around.
“But we wanted a second vote in Richmond, and so we lobbied against that. So, I just don’t have – I don’t have any information of what the state of play is, other than people are positioning themselves for this legislative session. And I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I suspect that you’ll see a direction one way or the other coming out of this legislative session.”
The 2024 Virginia General Assembly session convenes on Jan. 10, less than a month from now. Finding a new host for Virginia’s fifth casino will be a hot topic.
Possible choices for fifth Virginia casino
Richmonders spoke loud and clear that they didn’t want a casino in town. So, one city’s trash could become another’s treasure.
For that to happen, the Virginia General Assembly will need to choose a city to replace Richmond. Then, city leaders would write a referendum for voters to determine whether or not to bring a casino to town.
Petersburg, a town of 33,000 residents, sits less than 25 miles south of Richmond and seeks to capitalize on the capital’s rejection. The city has already set its 2024 legislative agenda, including creating a casino referendum for the 2025 election, citing the need for an economic boost as its calling card.
Meanwhile, Fairfax County in suburban Washington, D.C., has also gained momentum. Both Reston and the Tysons Corner area have claims: Reston has areas zoned for “public entertainment” that could immediately accommodate a casino, and the Tysons area could use the economic benefits, much like Petersburg.