Richmond City Council Votes To Bring To Life Proposed Casino Project; Second Referendum Likely This Fall

During a meeting Monday night, June 12, the Richmond City Council voted 8 to 1 in favor of the bill that would put ONE Casino+Resort back on the November ballot, which will likely move to a second referendum vote for voters to think again about allowing the proposed $562.5 million ONE Casino + Resort to be built in Richmond. In addition, the Council also chose RVA Entertainment Holdings LLC, a joint venture between Urban One Inc. and Churchill Downs Inc., for the casino operator.

Community host agreement and community support agreement:

Members of the Council also voted to sign a community host agreement between the city and RVA Entertainment Holdings, and a community support agreement between the city, developer RVA Entertainment Holdings and Richmond VA Management LLC (the entity that would operate the casino).

In addition, this second agreement would make an agreed-upon $25.5 million payment to the city from the developer if the referendum passes this year, and a $1 million bonus payment from the developer after the resort casino financing closes.

Rejection of proposed ONE Casino+Resort in 2021:

Following the 2019 General Assembly vote to permit casinos in five economically distressed cities across the state, voters in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth validated casinos in their localities in 2020 referendums, further leading to casinos operating in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth, with another in development in Norfolk. But, as for Richmond, its voters rejected the proposed ONE Casino + Resort in November 2021 by a margin of 1,200 votes.

Events that led to a retry:

A second referendum on the wording of the state’s casino legalization bill did not take place after the first failed, allowing Petersburg to try their proposed casino. However, Petersburg officials, involving state Sen. Joe Morrissey, aimed to bring Cordish Cos.’ proposed casino to their city and tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would have allowed them to have a casino referendum instead of Richmond. The failure of this bill paved the way for Richmond voters to vote on the ONE Casino+Resort again this fall.

The vast majority of information about the proposed casino is the same as it was two years ago, except that Churchill Downs is now included after purchasing Peninsula Pacific Entertainment LLC (P2E) for $2.75 billion last fall. Additionally, P2E was included in a 2021 proposal for ONE Casino + Resort with Silver Spring, Maryland-based Urban One, a media company that manages 55 radio stations and cable network TV One.

Layout of the proposed casino:

“The proposed ONE Casino + Resort would offer a 250-room hotel and radio, TV and film production studios and sound stages. Furthermore, it would be constructed on a 97-acre site on the city’s south side on property owned by Altria Group Inc. near Interstate 95, just as proposed in the 2021 referendum,” according to Richmond Economic Development Director Leonard Sledge. As for employment opportunities, the city expects the casino to directly create 1,300 jobs, which would collect $30 million in projected local tax income year-on-year, according to Sledge. During his presentation at last week’s Richmond City Council Organizational Development Standing Committee, Sledge said that “the temporary Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol brought in $7.9 million in tax revenue since it opened in July 2022, and the Rivers Casino in Portsmouth, has yielded $4.7 million in tax revenue since its January opening.”

Richmond City Council Votes To Bring To Life Proposed Casino Project; Second Referendum Likely This Fall

Supporters and opponents of the proposed casino:

Urban One Inc. CEO Alfred Liggins III and Joseph Quinn, Churchill Downs’ chief counsel, tried at a June 5 committee meeting to convince city councilors to give the project another chance, a formality since six of the nine council members serve as ordinance sponsors, together with Mayor Levar Stoney. However, the board’s organizing committee formally voted on June 5 to propose approval of the three pieces of bill, but one council member, Katherine Jordan, who also opposed the casino in 2021, voted against it both at last week’s board meeting and in the full council meeting on Monday.

Additionally, few supporters of the second referendum, mostly local union members who are pushing for more jobs, spoke throughout the public hearing segment of the board meeting, with only one opponent speaking up emphasizing that “the city’s voters had already made their feelings known in the first vote in 2021.” In this regard, City Councilor Reva Trammell, a staunch casino booster, said: “It’s a referendum. Yes, we have the right to have another one.”

After Monday’s vote, the Council will next petition Richmond Circuit Court to put referendum on the November ballot.

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