Richmond City Council could approve second casino referendum

Richmond, VA
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Richmond City Council could be on the verge of approving a second referendum on a proposed casino development after a committee recommended a re-run of the failed 2021 vote. 

As reported in local outlet VPM, councilors in the committee decided that a second referendum on the issue of a casino in the south of the city would be the most appropriate move. 

In November 2021, a referendum on bringing a casino to Richmond was narrowly defeated, with just 1500 votes earning a “No” campaign a slim victory. 

Yet, with councilors and casino proponents eyeing up the economic benefits of bringing a land-based property – expected to create 130 jobs – to the city, a second vote could be held as early as this fall should the motion be authorized. 

“It’s a referendum and yes, we have the right to have another one,” said Councilwoman Reva Trammell, whose district falls in the territory of where the proposed casino would be, courtesy of VPM.

The issue stems back to 2020 when SB36 was passed by the Virginia legislature. The bill allowed five cities – Portsmouth, Norfolk, Danville, Bristol, and Richmond – to hold referenda on opening casinos. 

Whilst the remaining four cities all approved the motion, Richmond narrowly voted against it, with many opponents citing the risks of a spike in problem gambling. 

This issue is the stumbling block for the second referendum, with members of the public concerned about the potential social and economic risks associated with casino gaming. 

So too did the issue of democracy itself, as opponents of a second referendum hinted that backers of a second vote did not respect the outcome of a democratically elected mandate. 

One member of the public said: “The people voted against having a casino in the city. So, is this to authorize another referendum? If that doesn’t pass, will there be a third referendum?”

But councilors had, in the main, made up their minds. All but two members of the committee had approved the proposals, with one vote against and one abstention. 

The proposed casino in Richmond is a joint venture between Urban One and Churchill Downs, which proposed a $562.5m development to the state, likely to open in the summer of 2026. 

But Richmond has competition on its hands should the City Council not fully authorize a second referendum. 

Councilors and lawmakers representing Petersburg have made moves to amend SB36 to allow the city to replace Richmond as the fifth city to have a casino in Virginia. 

This has become a controversial issue in local politics, with the dichotomy of economic prosperity directly competing with the risks of gambling addiction. Therefore, lawmakers have largely been stuck in their tribes, voting along party lines which often causes a standoff. 

Nevertheless, Cordish Companies presented a $1.4bn development in Petersburg last December, as the city tries to substitute in for Richmond. 

Whilst the House did pass HB1373, a motion to allow Petersburg to replace Richmond, the bill died in Senate, but it does indicate that frustrations are growing with Richmond’s lack of movement. 

Moving ahead, the issue of the second referendum will be revisited once more, before the full City Council votes on authorizing the referendum next week.