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Read more VPM News coverage of the historic 2023 elections in Virginia.

Gaming, gambling are main sources of Richmond's potential casino tax revenue

Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Councilor Reva Trammell speaks Wednesday at a Southside groundbreaking ceremony. Mayor Levar Stoney also advocated for support of the casino referendum that will appear on Nov. 7 ballots in Richmond.

A 2021 city-commissioned study said casino’s 'win per visit' would be roughly $120.

As Mayor Levar Stoney and city officials broke ground on a Southside community center project, they appealed to voters to approve a casino in the area that they said would fund a child care center on the site.

“Please, I'm begging everyone. Please get out to vote for [the] Richmond Grand Resort and Casino,” said Councilor Reva Trammell, who represents the area around T.B. Smith Community Center, where Wednesday's groundbreaking took place.

City Council and the mayor sponsored a nonbinding resolution that would set aside $7 million for a child care facility at the Smith center. Funding would come from a $26.5 million upfront payment the city would receive from Urban One and Churchill Downs — the companies behind the casino referendum — if it passes.

“We think the investment we're making using the American Rescue Plan, obviously is timely,” said Stoney. “The use of the operators’ dollars post-election would also just amplify the impact that we could make right here in Southside.”

While some of that upfront payment would be used to build the proposed on-site child care center, other new annual tax revenue generated by the casino that would be used for city projects is projected to come from visitors who spend money gambling at the Richmond Grand.

Convergence Strategy Group created an independent assessment of Richmond’s gaming market in 2021. It estimated that nearly $30 million in new tax revenue would come from a Southside casino. Nearly two-thirds — or about 64% — would come from gaming revenues, with food and beverage and property taxes each respectively contributing about 11%.

While city officials and the prospective casino operators have emphasized that this is a “destination resort” — rather than a casino, tourist attraction and hotel — 87% of potential revenue would come from Richmond-region residents, which the study said included areas as far as “Outer DC Maryland.” CSG estimated the casino would draw 2.2 million visitors, with the house taking in about $120 per visit.

Of all gaming revenue about 22% would come from Richmond City residents. The most visits would come from the downtown core, CSG said. That works out to more than 321,000 visits from that neighborhood’s approximately 140,000 residents of gaming age. South Richmond residents — approximately 80,000 people who are of gaming age — would make about 200,000 visits.

People opposing the casino referendum have said the Richmond Grand would exacerbate poverty in the city by providing “meager employment opportunities” and increasing local costs. Some of the areas around the casino have seen property tax assessments surge in recent years, according to city data.

“This dangerous cycle will disproportionately impact Richmond's most marginalized communities, deepening economic disparities,” said S.A.U.C.E., a student group opposed to the casino.

Despite almost $10 million spent to advocate for the casino — a record in Virginia elections — it’s unclear if voters will support the proposal.

“I'm no political pundit. I'm just a mayor,” Stoney said. “But I do believe it will be close, it will be one of those things where it will likely end up being razor thin once again.”

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.
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