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Richmond removes casino referendum from 2022 ballot

Billboards advertise the proposed Urban One casino
Crixell Matthews
Billboards advertise the proposed Urban One casino in Southside Richmond, which was rejected by voters in 2021. An attempt to have Richmonders vote on the casino proposal again this year was barred by the General Assembly. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Richmond voters will not decide on a proposed casino in November. On Wednesday, a Richmond judge granted the city’s request to remove the referendum from the ballot this year. If it remained, the city could have been at odds with state law.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the two-year budget in June, which included a provision that forbids localities that held failed casino referendums in 2021 from trying again in 2022. The move was intended to give Petersburg time to determine whether a casino would be right for that city.

Earlier this month, media company and casino developer Urban ONEannounced it would not pursue a second ballot referendum in Richmond this year, given the uncertainty around the legal implications. Alfred C. Liggins III, the company’s  CEO, said it would focus on a referendum in 2023.

Richmond voters rejected the casino last November, with about 51% saying no to the project.

Following the measure’s narrow defeat, City Council members — including Reva Trammell, whose Southside district includes the proposed casino location — worked to get the casino back on the ballot in 2022. The court had previously signed off on the city's request to include the measure on this year’s ballot before the revised state budget torpedoed the plan.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney supported bringing a casino to Richmond, saying it would bring new jobs and more than a half-billion dollars in anticipated tax revenue for the city during the next decade.

Other backers said the casino could bring the Southside much-needed investments in resources and infrastructure.

“I'm hopeful that we can work with our state representatives over the next six months or so to really collaborate with them so they understand ... what an impact this could have in our city in terms of revenue, in terms of jobs and just the development of that area of our city,” said Kristen Nye, a city councilmember representing the Fourth District.

But opponents cite the social costs of gambling, including gambling addiction. The proposed casino would be located in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Richmond’s Southside.

“City councilors saw their own districts vote against the referendum, yet continue to pursue it,” said Quinton Robbins, a Southside resident who works with the progressive organization Richmond For All. “I hope they take into account the will of the voter in deciding if they’ll place this next referendum in 2023.”

A majority of voters in most Southside precincts voted in favor of the casino project in 2021, while opposition to the proposal was concentrated in the West End.

Jahd Khalil contributed reporting to this story.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.
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