Casinos for youRichmonders could be facing the question of constructing a new casino on the November ballot for the second time in three years. If approved, the ONE Casino and Resort project, as it is known, is expected to boost the city’s economy.
Question marks linger in Richmond over whether residents of the Virginia capital will get another stab at pursuing the city’s ONE Casino + Resort agenda in the ballot later this year. A previous effort to establish a casino on the South side was rejected in a 2021 referendum following a close 51%-49% ‘No’ vote margin.
Now, the City Council led by Mayor Levar M. Stoney has revived the push to establish the casino in the South Side, hoping that the dissenter’s gap will be closed by November. Will the second time be the charm?
A Familiar Process With Renewed Energy
The revival process began last November when the city forwarded its request to a Richmond Circuit Court judge, seeking to stay in the race to host the ONE Casino and Resort development. With an estimated cost of $562 million, the gambling establishment will also feature a 12-story hotel, a 55-acre public park, and an entertainment venue.
This entire project will be developed on a 100-acre plot of land at the Bell Road Interchange on Interstate 95. However, it’s worth pointing out that at the moment, cigarette manufacturer mogul Philip Moris is the current owner of the said parcel of land.
The ONE Casino and Resort development can be traced back a few years ago when Richmond tasked city officials with assessing gaming resort bids from interested parties. Outside Urban One, the developer whose proposal won, some of the other parties who threw their hats in the ring included Pamunkey Indian Tribe. Wind Creek Hospitality, Golden Nugget, The Cordish Companies, and Bally’s Corporation.
Richmond’s casino evaluation panel eventually went with Urban One, which came up with the idea of ONE Casino, which would’ve been developed in conjunction with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment. However, after the referendum loss, there were efforts to relocate the project to Pittsburgh, an effort that also lost its momentum due to budgetary issues. So, we’re now back full circle with the hopes that Richmond voters have changed their minds.
Mixed Reactions to the Renewed Casino Vote Push
The City Council’s new push has elicited mixed reactions across the political divide. Eighth District Councilor Reva Trammell welcomed the move, saying ‘the casino is not just for gambling’, given that it would provide many employment opportunities to constituents. True to her words, the gaming and entertainment establishment is projected to create over 1,300 jobs and rake in annual revenue of about $30 million for city coffers.
On his part, Council President and 9th District Councilor Mike Jones opined that the vote shouldn’t be as controversial as its opposers are making it.
Speaking to VPM News, the Council President said:Quote
“They vote and run in the House of Delegates every two years. Right? City council every four. So, I am saying, ‘Hey, they already voted once two years ago’? Well, no, we have the right to run (it) as much as we want. And so, that’s what we are doing.”
Be that as it may, Mr. Jones remains unsure whether the General Assembly and Governor Glenn Youngkin will let a referendum move forward or stop it at the budget process – like last year when there was a proposal to set up a casino in Petersburg.
Meanwhile, there are those that do not quite view the move in such a positive light. For example, Randolph-Macon College political science professor Richard Meagher opined that the move reeked anti-democracy, happening just a year after Richmond residents voiced their opinions. He said:Quote
“You don’t have a referendum every year until you get the outcome you want. And plus, there’s no way that if there had been a ‘yes’ vote, the mayor would say, ‘Well, let’s just make sure and have it again.’”
But then again, while still expressing his reservations about the vote, Professor Meagher qualified his statement by saying that the Mayor and the City Council may have a point. As he sees it, the Southside residents who have overwhelmingly expressed support for the initiative deserve to be heard. He further added:Quote
“There was something unseemly about the vote itself, the way the demographics and different areas of the city voted. You definitely don’t want to discount the overlooked Southside, which is constantly kind of ignored in the city and sort of seems last in line for any improvements and economic development.”
Joining in the opposition of a second casino vote referendum was Baltimore-based Cordish Companies, which is in partnership with the neighboring Pittsburgh to establish a casino there. Well, of course, this opposition is all about protecting its business interests. The Baltimore group has threatened to halt the process of setting up a casino in Pittsburgh if the second vote is allowed to sail through. They prefer not to share the market with a rival gaming establishment.
Meanwhile, the situation has not been helped by Governor Youngkin’s signing of a budget last year that gave Petersburg more time to evaluate if it wanted a casino. In addition, this budget included a provision that prevented the localities with failed referendums on casino votes from re-igniting their interest. But then, given that the budget is still in limbo, Richmond’s City Council seized the opportunity to forward its papers proposing the second casino referendum.
All Eyes on the City Council
The Richmond City Council is scheduled to vote on this proposal at their next meeting on June 12th. With many conflicting viewpoints pegged on the matter, it remains to be seen how things will turn out. Either way, the outcome of the City Council vote will undoubtedly shape the future of Richmond’s gambling market.
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