Richmond City Council Takes Step Toward Placing VA Casino on Ballot

Richmond City Council Takes Step Toward Placing VA Casino on Ballot
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

Richmond City Council members in Virginia approved a list of ordinances and resolutions on Monday as part of an effort to revive a casino project in the city.

The council authorized the capital to execute a Resort Casino Host Community Agreement with RVA Entertainment Holdings, LLC. Voters in Richmond rejected the resort casino project in 2021.

Known as Ordinance 2023-170, 2023-171, and Resolution 2023-R027, the measures approved Monday authorize Richmond to enter an agreement with a joint venture company to develop a casino in the city.

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About the Players in Richmond Casino Proposal

The joint venture company, RVA Entertainment Holdings LLC, is between Urban One Inc. and Churchill Downs Inc. Urban One is a media company geared toward Black America and the African-American community. Churchill Downs is one of the largest gaming operators in the country with 30 facilities in 14 different states and organizes the famous Kentucky Derby each year.

Selecting RVA Entertainment Holdings during Monday’s meeting is just one of several administrative steps the city must take before the city can place the casino issue on ballots in November.

But Richmond has been in this situation before.

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Previous Virginia Casino History

In 2019, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to allow five casinos in economically challenged cities: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Richmond. All cities but Richmond passed a casino referendum. Richmond voters rejected the idea of a casino project in 2021. Urban One was selected by Richmond to build the casino that was rejected.

Meanwhile, Hard Rock International’s Bristol Casino was the first casino to open in July 2022, followed by Rivers Casino Portsmouth in January. Bristol Casino and Rivers Casino combined contributed over $6 million in taxes to the state in April alone. A third casino, Danville Casino, opened on May 15 and has not yet reported revenue numbers.

There are no Virginia online casinos.

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Voices Oppose, Favor Proposal

A handful of residents at Monday’s meeting voiced their concern over a second casino referendum in Richmond.

“The field was never level,” Richmond resident Debbie Rowe said. “It was always tilted heavily in favor of the developers because of the money. Our votes (in 2021) should stand. It's an egregious act for council to ignore our vote and to referendum us to the point of exhaustion.”

Meanwhile, Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of Urban One, spoke at the public meeting and pointed out benefits that could come from the project in a state where Virginia sports betting is thriving.

“The ONE entertainment complex will do a lot more than produce $30 million per year in tax revenue,” Hughes said. “It will also assist Richmond in investing in its families, employing its residents, and creating a stronger safer city with better schools and services.”

The Richmond project would be Urban One’s first casino. The company has only been an investor in other casino projects, including MGM National Harbor in Maryland.

In March, Urban One reportedly issued a “put notice” that requires MGM National Harbor to buy back all of Urban One’s minority investment in the gaming resort. Urban One would receive approximately $145.5 million from the move.

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Details of Casino Proposal

The $562.5 million ONE Casino + Resort in Richmond proposal includes a 250-room hotel, casino gaming area, restaurants, and concert event center. The company says that the resort would provide more than 1,300 new jobs (paying a minimum of $15 an hour) and provide outstanding community benefits plus a compensation package to the City of Richmond in terms of new general fund revenue.

“This is something that can actually help us bring our tax rate down,” city council member Ann-Frances Lambert said Monday. “We got to say yes to projects like this in order for us to do so.”

The city council must petition Richmond Circuit Court to place the casino referendum vote on November ballots this year.

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Author

Keith Stein is a Virginia-based writer for BetVirginia.com who covers sports betting and casinos.

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