Not so fast

Richmond City Council informed that planned ONE Casino + Resort opening will be delayed 9 months or more, with casino opening in late 2024 and hotel not opening until late 2025

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 7/8/2021, 6 p.m.
The 2024 campaign for Richmond’s next mayor will be in full swing before the planned ONE Casino + Resort will …

The 2024 campaign for Richmond’s next mayor will be in full swing before the planned ONE Casino + Resort will welcome the first players to try their luck at the slot machines, roll the dice on a craps table or play blackjack.

Instead of being ready in December 2023 as City Hall initially announced, the casino’s completion date has been pushed back nine months to Oct. 1, 2024, City Council was notified Monday.

And the 250-room luxury hotel that is part of the package might not open until Oct. 1, 2025, the council also was informed.

All of this is assuming Richmond voters give a thumbs-up to having full-blown gambling mecca in the city.

Leonard L. Sledge, the city’s economic development director, made the disclosures during a meeting of City Council’s Organizational Development Committee. All nine members of the council are on the committee.

Mr. Sledge

Mr. Sledge

The revised timeline for the resort is included in two ordinances the committee recommended for approval at the council’s next meeting on Monday, July 12.

That means that for the time being, Rosie’s Gaming Emporium in South Side will be the only legitimate gambling operation in the Richmond area, outside of the lottery.

Surprisingly, the only committee member to express any concern about the casino developer’s agreements with the city turned out to be 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, who was previously a cheerleader for the project proposed for Walmsley and Commerce roads. Now growing skeptical her South Side district would benefit from the project, she expressed dismay about the extra time the developer is being granted.

Mr. Sledge told the council the delay is reasonable given that the award of the license to operate the casino is a state matter.

“The one factor that is not under our control,” he explained, “is the Virginia Lottery.” That state agency has been assigned to regulate the five new casinos that have been approved by the General Assembly for operation in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol and Richmond.

Among other things, the Lottery must grant preliminary approval of the city’s choice of a casino developer and site before it can be put on a referendum to city voters. That has yet to happen but such approval is expected either later this month or by early August.

And if the city clears that hurdle, and if Richmond voters approve the developer and the site, the Lottery then must decide whether to award the chosen casino operator an operating license.

Richmond’s choice is RVA Entertainment Holdings LLC, described as a wholly owned subsidiary of Urban One, which bills itself as the nation’s largest Black-owned media company. Urban One is best known for its group of radio stations, such as Power 92.1 and 99.3 and 105.7 Kiss FM in Richmond.

The campaign to win voter approval already is underway. One example is a rally to show support for the casino that is scheduled for noon Saturday, July 10, at Blackwell Elementary School, 1600 Everett St. in South Side.

If the casino proposal passes in the Nov. 2 election, then Urban One, through RVA Entertainment, must turn over to the Lottery all of its documents and a $15 million check by mid-December. The Lottery is then charged to do a deep dive into the organization, its ownership and its financing. The Lottery would have up to 12 months to complete its work and either issue or reject the license.

Mr. Liggins

Mr. Liggins

Alfred C. Liggins III, president and chief executive officer of Urban One, is not ready to pour $563 million into a development if the Lottery rejects the license. Even before the license is awarded, the company, whose stock publicly trades, will have spent more than $70 million, but it does not want to take the risk of a far bigger loss.

The company has registered a plan to sell up to $200 million in stock with voting rights to finance the casino. While Mr. Liggins has identified 50 individuals who are or have invested, the prospectus filed June 11 does not mention them or their role in RVA Entertainment Holdings or the amount of stock each is purchasing.

Under the revised agreement with the city, the casino project Mr. Liggins is leading would have until April 1, 2022, to buy the Philip Morris property on Commerce Road and begin demolition. However, the company would have until Jan. 18, 2023, to close on construction financing and begin actual construction, the documents show.

Mr. Sledge noted that in exchange for having the city push back the opening dates for the casino and hotel, Mr. Liggins has agreed that RVA Entertainment would pay the city an extra $1 million up front.

Before the terms were revised, Mr. Liggins had agreed that Urban One, through RVA Entertainment, would pay the city $25 million once voters passed the referendum, plus $500,000 to reimburse the city for legal and consulting expenses incurred in reviewing casino proposals.

Under the agreed upon terms, the city is projecting that its general fund would gain at least $29 million a year in new revenue in each of the first five years of the casino’s operation.

Unchanged are other terms in the agreement that would require the casino to hire nearly 1,000 full-time and more than 350 part-time employees in positions that would pay a minimum of $15 an hour, provide $2.5 million in free advertising for the city, give Richmond residents preference in hiring and give local restaurants preference to operate the resort’s sit-down restaurants as well as kiosks in the food court.

The casino also has pledged to by Richmond- and Virginia-produced works of art to decorate the casino and hotel, produce an average of $5 million a year in new media content on site and make contributions to the city’s schools and nonprofits.

Ms. Trammell, though, told City Council members that she was upset that the agreement did not include a specific promise that residents of her district would be the most preferred for the new jobs. She also said there was no language requiring all of the new tax dollars the casino generates to go to infrastructure projects.

She said that she received promises from Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration that would happen as inducements to gain her support. She said her district and other parts of South Side, particularly the 26 square miles annexed from Chesterfield County in 1969, have been neglected through the years and deserve better.

Mr. Sledge said the only agreement he is aware of is that City Council would decide how to spend the new money the casino brings into city coffers.

Ninth District Councilman Michael J. Jones said he agrees with Ms. Trammell that South Side has been neglected and will be introducing a paper to council that would require at least 60 percent of the revenue the casino would generate and 60 percent of the $154 million the city is to receive from the federal American Rescue Plan go to improve parks, roads and other infrastructure in South Side.