Urban One, Colonial Downs Make Collective Push For Richmond Casino Contract

Posted on February 22, 2021

If one visionary has his way, Virginia could soon have the only current Black-owned casino in the US.

Officials on Monday formally announced the plans from Alfred Liggins. He is the CEO of the Washington-based Urban One media and content company.

According to the announcement, Urban One will host a press conference in Richmond on Tuesday with project details.

During the media event, Liggins will unveil plans for a $517 million entertainment, dining, and gaming destination. The 300,000 square-foot resort would reside in the Virginia capital. It would also have a familiar partner (more on that below).

Later this year, Richmond residents will formally vote on whether to green-light a casino-resort project in the city of 230,000. Four other VA cities, Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth, passed casino referenda in 2020.

If Richmond becomes the fifth Virginia casino city, Liggins’ company wants to be at the center of it.

Urban One and its plans for a Richmond casino

Tuesday’s media event takes place at the potential future host site of the project in South Richmond. The land, which Altria Group Inc. (Philip Morris USA’s parent company) currently owns, is located at the intersection of Walmsley Boulevard meets Commerce Road near I-95.

Although Monday’s media alert didn’t mention Urban One’s possible partner, local media outed it. The Richmond Times-Dispatch‘s Michael Martz recently reported it is Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the owner of Colonial Downs Group.

Currently, Colonial Downs operates historical horse racing (HHR) parlors in five Virginia cities, including Richmond.

According to Martz’s report, Liggins’ company would be the majority investor in the 100-acre project. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of Don Barden, a successful Black businessman and trailblazer who operated multiple casinos. The late gaming executive, who died in 20211, was the first Black casino owner in Las Vegas.

As Liggins told Richmond.com:

“Urban One is excited to be submitting a robust proposal to the City of Richmond to create an unparalleled gaming, dining, and live music destination that will attract tourists from all across the country and, if selected, be the only Black owned casino with diverse investors in the United States. We have been a part of the Richmond community since 1999, and everything we are proposing will have a local flavor and will ensure our facility uplifts the entire Richmond community.”

Urban One owns four radio stations in Richmond and more than 50 across the country. It bills itself as the largest distributor of urban content in the country.

HHR vs. casinos: What’s the difference?

Colonial Downs had previously expressed interest in operating the possible Richmond casino.

However, according to the report, because of the Urban One partnership, Colonial Downs would no longer look to build and operate its own licensed casino.

Colonial Downs’ HHR parlors are popular, but they have limited offerings. The Virginia General Assembly legalized HHR (aka “instant racing“) in 2018, largely as a way to try to revive VA’s struggling horse-racing industry. However, within the regulatory framework, Rosie’s can offer only slot-like HHR machines and an on-site racebook.

A traditional Richmond casino would differ from those Rosie’s locations in some substantial ways. Primarily, it would greatly expand the gaming options Richmond gamblers could experience.

The Urban One-Colonial Downs casino would include:

  • 90,000 square feet of gaming space, including table games and traditional slot machines
  • 150-room hotel
  • Entertainment space for up to 200 music concerts per year
  • Multiple restaurants, bars, and lounges

Like other Virginia resorts, the Richmond casino would also likely include an on-site sportsbook, poker room, keno, and other popular games.

What’s next for Urban One and Colonial Downs

The City of Richmond set a Monday (Feb. 22) deadline for Request for Qualifications/Proposals (RFQ/P) for the potential casino.

Urban One plans to submit its “robust” proposal for consideration. However, it won’t be the only hopeful.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe has already announced its plans for a $350 million resort in Richmond. The Pamunkeys are the state’s first federally recognized tribe and announced their Virginia casino interest early in the legislative and regulatory process.

The tribe is already moving forward on the $500 million Pamunkey Casino Resort Norfolk. That resort will likely open in 2023.

The Pamunkeys, Colonial Downs, and Urban One were considered the three most viable contenders for the Richmond casino project. However, with the latter two now uniting, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe faces a challenge as it hopes to become the first owner of two casinos in Virginia.

Richmond officials plan to make their decision regarding a preferred casino operator sometime this summer. A timeline and other details can be found at RVA.gov.

Photo by AP / Steve Helber
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Dann Stupp

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

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