Richmond officials in the Virginia capital are threatening legal action against the state. That’s after lawmakers passed their 2022-2024 biennium budget with a provision blocking Richmond from re-asking city residents to support a casino development.
On Wednesday, the Virginia General Assembly signed off on its budget bill that lays the funding groundwork for the state’s governance for the next two years. But a tacked-on provision, should Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) sign the spending omnibus without amendment, would prevent Richmond from conducting a casino ballot referendum until November of 2023.
Richmond voters narrowly rejected a similar question during the 2021 November election. Nearly 51% of city residents expressed opposition to a $565 million casino resort pitch from Black-focused media conglomerate Urban One.
No locality that has been previously authorized as an eligible host city pursuant to § 58.1-4107, Code of Virginia, to conduct casino gaming which held a local referendum on November 2, 2021, that failed, shall be eligible to hold a subsequent local referendum until November 2023,” provision Item 4-8.03#1c in the Virginia budget reads.
The text, which comes on page 615 of the budget bill, would override a Richmond Circuit Court order that said Richmond can carry on with a second gaming referendum. Virginia is a “Dillon Rule” state, where state laws trump local decisions.
Urban One is hoping to become Richmond’s casino development partner for a second referendum. Though the city hasn’t fully committed to the media company, which brought in experienced gaming operator Peninsula Pacific Entertainment for its 2021 presentation, Richmond and Urban One released unified statements on the budget bill’s passage.
“This retroactive budget language seeks to unconstitutionally invalidate a final Court Order and inappropriately constrain the Virginia Lottery in fulfilling its regulatory authority in the same manner as it has done for other casinos,” the statement from Urban One read. “We will partner with the City of Richmond, including through litigation, to ensure that the people of Richmond have the final say on what happens in their community and that the rule of law is protected.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) said the Assembly’s actions “deliberately harm the City of Richmond by denying economic opportunities for its residents.” The mayor went on to say that the city is “assessing our legal options, but remain firm in our belief that the citizens of Richmond should not be disenfranchised just months before they would have the opportunity to vote.”
People Have Spoken
State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), whose legislative district encompasses parts of Richmond, but more so Petersburg and the town’s surrounding area south of the capital, argues Richmonders have already been afforded the chance to vote on a casino. And with their answer being “no,” he says the state should consider allowing the unused Richmond gaming license to be transferred south to Petersburg.
Morrissey says he will introduce legislation in early 2023 during the Assembly’s full session year to qualify Petersburg as a potential casino host city. Morrissey’s efforts have the backing of Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham, who believes a casino will transform the region and solidify Petersburg as a leisure and business destination for “many decades to come.”
As for Richmond officials considering legal recourse, Morrissey says bring it on.
“If he [Stoney] is desirous and wants to fight in court, fine. It wouldn’t be the first time that he’s wasted city of Richmond funds to fight a losing battle,” said Morrissey, who lost to Stoney in the 2016 Richmond mayoral election.
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