Richmond casino: City Council gives green light to second referendum

Richmond, Virginia
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Voters could be heading to the polls to offer a second opinion on a potential Richmond casino after the City Council comfortably passed a motion to authorize a second referendum on the issue. 

In session earlier this week, the Richmond City Council passed the motion to have a second referendum on the city hosting one of the five casinos in Virginia, with only one councilor voting against the measure. 

As reported by VPM, the council has now passed over the power to the Virginia Lottery, which will now review the process and vet the potential casino operator before the electorate gets to have their say for a second time. 

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 1300 jobs – to the city, a second vote could be held as early as this fall.

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. 

Michael Kelly, a spokesperson for Churchill Downs, told SBC Americas: “This joint economic development project from Churchill Downs and Urban One will deliver huge benefits for all of Richmond including 1,300 permanent jobs and tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue for Richmond to invest in a stronger, safer city with better-funded schools and services. 

“The project will now be reviewed by the Virginia Lottery as required by law and we look forward to sharing its many benefits with Richmond voters in the weeks and months ahead.”

Should the project be voted through, the joint venture – RVA Entertainment Holdings – would pay the city $25.5m annually as part of the deal. 

Despite the council voting in favor of a second referendum, there remains significant pushback to the casino project in Richmond, as VPM reported from the public session earlier this week. 

One member of the public – David Dominique – said: “We tried to introduce more factual messaging to the discourse. And we looked at a number of academic journals, and peer-reviewed research, all of which, more or less unanimously confirms that unbalanced casinos basically drained communities of funds.”

Another, Debbie Rowe, blasted the council for ignoring the public vote of 2021, adding: “It’s an egregious act for council to ignore our vote, and to referendum us to the point of exhaustion.”

Should the Virginia Lottery, which regulates casino gaming in the state, approve the proposals then a vote could be held as soon as the fall. It is clear that there will be some much-needed dialogue and campaigning on behalf of the casino’s proponents before then, with fierce backlash audible from certain quarters. 

Richmond was listed as one of five cities in Virginia authorized to hold a referendum on whether to open a casino when the state’s general assembly passed through HB1373 in 2020. 

Whilst the other four cities – Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, and Norfolk – held successful referenda, the voters of Richmond narrowly said no in 2021.