Richmond Circuit Court Judge Reilly Marchant has handed officials in the Virginia capital the decision they’ve been seeking.
Marchant this week approved a request from the Richmond City Council to ask local voters during the 2022 election on November 8 to again consider a casino proposal. The City Council and Mayor Levar Stoney are both in support of holding a second ballot referendum in hopes of finding a different outcome — one that goes in favor of allowing the more than half of a billion-dollar casino undertaking to proceed.
This special economic development opportunity in South Richmond gives the city an additional way to address equity and community wealth gaps,” Stoney said in a prepared statement. “As the city continues to work on diversity, equity, and inclusion, the casino project can assist with leveling the playing field for many Richmonders who continue to struggle during these uncertain and unprecedented times.”
The 2021 vote was split among white and black neighborhoods. More affluent areas tended to reject the casino, while more impoverished sections of town backed the undertaking. The outcome was roughly 51-49 against the casino.
Black-focused media conglomerate Urban One was behind the failed 2021 casino bid. The company beat out five other bids, including ones from experienced casino operators like Golden Nugget, Bally’s, and The Cordish Companies. A special city committee was tasked with evaluating the proposals and selecting a development partner.
Urban One was targeting vacant land adjacent to the Philip Morris tobacco plant along I-95, south of downtown.
Casino Rebilled as Diversity Project
Stoney is taking a different tone in backing Richmond’s casino project.
The Democratic mayor last year flaunted the projected fiscal and economic benefits of voting “yes” on Urban One’s ONE Casino + Resort. Now, Stoney is campaigning that backing the casino is a vote in support of diversity and inclusion.
Many minority city residents voiced their opinion following the November rejection of the casino that while Richmond is home, they often do not feel welcome.
“There are black and brown people who grew up in Richmond who say, ‘I love Richmond, but sometimes I don’t think Richmond loves me back.’ That’s devastating to hear,” Stoney said in January.
Richmond was one of five cities that qualified to ask its residents whether they wish to authorize a commercial casino to spur economic development through 2020 state legislation. Each of the four other cities — Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol — passed their local gaming referendums during the 2020 election.
Revote Not Set in Stone
Judge Marchant’s approval for the Richmond City Council to move forward with a second casino vote could be blocked on the state level. And there are at least two ways in which that might happen.
Virginia Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) is leading an effort to allow nearby Petersburg to consider a casino. If voters there would back such a development, Morrissey’s legislation would transfer Richmond’s unused gaming license to Petersburg, located some 20 miles south of the capital.
Morrissey’s Petersburg casino bill stalled during the 2022 regular session in a Senate committee, but he isn’t foregoing the fight. The state Senator is also behind an effort to include a provision in the 2022 Budget Bill that would block Richmond from holding a second casino vote until at least 2023.
The injunction would be to allow the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review (JLAR) Commission to field a study on allowing Richmond’s casino opportunity to move to Petersburg.
State lawmakers failed to approve the 2022 budget, meaning a special session will be held later this year. The special session, which has become the norm in Virginia in recent years, has yet to be scheduled.
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