GAMBLING

Third Richmond Casino Vote Unlikely, Lawmakers Seek Guarantee

Posted on: January 18, 2024, 03:12h. 

Last updated on: January 18, 2024, 03:26h.

For the second time, Richmond voters rejected a proposed casino through a local referendum in November. While it seems unlikely that the Virginia capital’s City Council will initiate a third referendum on a gaming resort project after voters last year more strongly opposed a casino than they did during the first vote in 2021, two state lawmakers want to strip city officials of the casino privilege.

Richmond casino Virginia gambling
Two Virginia lawmakers want to make sure Richmond doesn’t ask city residents to vote on a casino for a third time. Voters in the Virginia capital have twice rejected a proposed gaming resort. (Image: Virginia.org)

Virginia lawmakers in 2020 authorized five cities, including Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville, to consider casinos. The legislation provided specific details qualifying each city.

The 2020 law didn’t identify the cities by name, but instead, qualified each through detailed legislative language.

The 2020 bill explains that an eligible host city includes “any city with a population greater than 200,000, according to the 2018 population estimates from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service of the University of Virginia, in which at least 24% of the assessed value of all real estate in such city is exempt from local property taxation, according to the Virginia Department of Taxation Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2018, and that had a poverty rate of at least 24% in 2017, according to data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.” That specific language qualified Richmond for a casino.

Bills to End Richmond Casino Referendums

State Del. Betsy Carr (D-Richmond) introduced legislation this week that would strip the aforementioned language from the Virginia statute that legalized commercial casinos in the commonwealth. Del. Michael Jones (D-Richmond) has meanwhile introduced legislation that would prohibit a qualifying casino host city from conducting multiple referendums.

All but Richmond held single referendums approving their casinos. While Carr and Jones are campaigning to prevent Richmond from re-asking voters to approve a casino for a third time, lawmakers representing other parts of the state have filed legislation to gain casino referendum privileges.

Since the time of the first failed Richmond casino vote, Petersburg has expressed interest in becoming a casino host location. Petersburg is about 25 miles south of the state capital.

State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) is spearheading the Petersburg casino push in 2024. Nicknamed the “Casino Lady” for her years of advocating for the commonwealth to allow Las Vegas-style gambling, Lucas is a powerful lawmaker who has served in the Richmond capital since 1992. She’s been the Senate President Pro Tempore since January 2020.

State Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax) has authored legislation to allow Fairfax County’s Tysons to become a commercial casino host. He believes a casino in Northern Virginia would deliver the state with considerable tax revenue and keep the estimated $100 million that Northern Virginians lose at casinos in neighboring Maryland inside the commonwealth.

Richmond Casino Conclusion?

Richmonders narrowly defeated their proposed casino in 2021 by a 51%-49% outcome. That project was called ONE Casino + Resort.

Undeterred, the Richmond City Council and Mayor Levar Stoney (D) moved forward with a second referendum with the hope that a more coordinated public campaign hyping the benefits that such a resort would bring the capital metro would result in a different outcome.

Richmond’s government again partnered with Urban One, a media conglomerate tailored to the Black community. The Richmond Grand Resort & Casino, as that project was called after being envisioned in a partnership with Churchill Downs, ran a campaign called “Richmond Wins, Vote Yes.”

In the days before the vote, Urban One execs and on-air personalities caused controversy with some of their remarks. Urban One founder Cathy Hughes injected race into the conversation by claiming opponents to the casino are opponents to the Black community.

Do not forget that they do not see you as a human being,” Hughes said on a radio show produced by Urban One. “Even though you may have a house like theirs, a car like theirs, and your children go to the same schools, they see you as a n*****.”

Radio host Preston Brown later called one of the casino’s biggest opponents, political activist Paul Goodman, “a white Jew with a background of Judas.”

The 2023 Richmond casino was defeated by a 58%-42% vote.


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