Thumbs up: Circuit court OKs casino referendum for Nov. 7 ballot

Voters have the power to change South Side’s ‘economic trajectory,’ says Mayor

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 7/27/2023, 6 p.m.
Richmond voters are all but certain to have a second chance to decide whether the city should host a casino …
Alfred Liggins, CEO of Urban One, right, listens to 8th District Councilwoman Reva Trammell, left, at The Satellite Restaurant & Lounge last year on Aug. 4 as she discussed a proposed casino development. The proposed casino, if approved, will be carried out at no cost to the city, Ms. Trammell said recently, but would generate more than 1,300 new jobs and new revenue for the city. Mr. Liggins’ Urban One company is a partner in the proposed casino. Photo by Regina H. Boone

Richmond voters are all but certain to have a second chance to decide whether the city should host a casino resort.

City Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, who has championed the casino, said she was notified Tuesday that the city Circuit Court had issued an order to put a casino referendum on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

The court order followed a vote last week by the board of the Virginia Lottery, the casino-regulating state agency.

The vote gave preliminary approval to the city’s casino proposal, clearing the way for the court to act on a request for the order from the City Attorney’s Office.

Mayor Levar M. Stoney and City Council have pushed for a second casino referendum following the narrow defeat of the development in 2021.

In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Stoney expressed excitement that the casino vote is on track and urged approval from voters.

“Richmond is experiencing record development and growth,” he stated, “and with the addition of a destination resort we will change the economic trajectory of South Side for years to come.”

Just as was the case two years ago, the fall ballot item will call for voter approval of a $560 million combination casino, resort hotel, entertainment venue and public park to be developed on 100 acres at the Bells Road interchange on Interstate 95. Altria currently owns the property.

The development, if approved, is to be carried out at no cost to the city, according to Ms. Trammell, but would generate more than 1,300 new jobs and a gusher of new revenue for the city. The project also would include a 50-acre public park, an entertainment venue and a sound stage for producing radio and TV content for Urban One outlets and other media operations as well as promotional material for the city.

The proposed casino would be undertaken by partnerships that include Urban One, the Maryland-based Black media company whose holdings include major Richmond radio stations, and Churchill Downs, the Kentucky-based racing and gaming company that already owns the Rosie’s gambling operations in Virginia.

Representatives of both companies also issued a joint statement Tuesday cheering the legal advance as they prepared to campaign for approval.

Alfred C. Liggins III, Urban One’s CEO, said that passage of the casino referendum would enable his company to continue to invest “in the citizens of this great city.”

According to city documents, Richmond is to receive an immediate $26.5 million from the partnership if the referendum passes. The city also anticipates receiving yearly $30 million or more in additional tax revenue once the casino is in operation, primarily from the tax on gambling proceeds.

Reports are circulating that Churchill Downs is already conducting polling to gauge public interest and identify any potential roadblocks. Expectations are for Churchill Downs to advertise heavily this fall in a bid to generate positive support.

At this point, the opposition that was so active in 2021 has yet to surface publicly.

The only potential roadblock: Language in an amended state budget barring the vote. So far the General Assembly has yet to reach a spending deal, though a new proposal for the 2023-24 fiscal year is now circulating, negotiators said last week.

It is not clear that the potential deal to carve up $4.1 billion in collected, but unallocated revenue even mentions the Richmond vote.