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A Second Richmond Casino Referendum Is Officially Happening

Written By Derek Helling on July 26, 2023
hand dropping paper into ballot box representing a second casino referendum in richmond, virginia

Richmond residents, you’re about to be the envy of every other city in the United States of America. Because of the looming 2024 federal elections and what is now an official second citywide referendum on whether to allow casino gaming, you’re about to be inundated with political advertising from every direction for months on end.

A state court and the Virginia Lottery have approved the language of the ballot measure for November, marking clearance of the final legal hurdles for the vote.  More details are forthcoming on the proposal as the contracted developer prepares to try to sway more minds in Virginia’s capital its way.

Take two on the Richmond casino vote

On Tuesday morning, the Richmond Circuit Court filed an order officially placing the casino question on a citywide ballot. The vote will take place in November and represent the second time in three years that Richmonders have been asked whether they approve of a specific plan to bring a brick-and-mortar casino to their city.

The court order followed a decision by the Virginia Lottery to approve of the referendum language last week. As the Richmond City Council approved of the referendum and casino development plan in June, all the necessary authorizations are now in place.

Richmonders will again decide whether they want a casino developed by Urban One. The second proposal mirrors much of the first beyond just Urban One’s involvement, though. Like the plan for the casino that failed in 2021, Urban One promises that the casino will bring permanent jobs and tax revenue to Richmond.

Urban One will collaborate with Churchill Downs on the casino’s operation, should voters approve. The proposed location is near Commerce Road on the south side of Richmond. Besides the gaming, the development plans call for:

  • 55 acres of public green space
  • Conference/event space
  • Dining options
  • Hotel complete with a fitness center, pool and spa
  • Live entertainment venue

A news release states that Churchill Downs and Urban One will unveil more details about the project to voters “in the coming weeks.” That will probably mark the beginning of a campaign to flip the results of the 2021 vote.

Richmonders should get ready for a marketing barrage

As Caroline Coleburn of WTVR pointed out, the council member representing the part of Richmond that the casino would occupy, Reva Trammel, is in favor of the proposal. Trammel said she believes the 2% margin that the referendum failed by in 2021 was due to confusion about the casino’s location.

There is no mixed messaging about where the casino would lie this time, however. Proponents of the project will likely employ all forms of mass media to tout what they see as the benefits of the casino project to make sure their message gets out, too.

Whether opponents of the casino will organize is unclear right now. There are some outside Richmond who have a vested interest in seeing the referendum fail a second time. That result could open the door again for a potential casino operated by The Cordish Cos. in Petersburg instead of the Urban One project in Richmond.

So far, no one involved in that Petersburg project has publicly expressed an intent to influence the second Richmond referendum. Outside of that, potential opposition could come from Richmond citizens. Such efforts could be far outspent by the Churchill Downs/Urban One partnership, though.

Any potential negative marketing could focus on Urban One’s recent tardy securities filings. According to Jahd Khalil of VPM, Urban One recently missed deadlines to file earnings reports with Nasdaq. Urban One said its delays were because of accounting issues connected to the sale of its interest in the MGM National Harbor casino.

The Churchill Downs/Urban One partnership has another factor potentially to its benefit. It doesn’t necessarily have to change the minds of the 51% of voters who chose “no” on the 2021 ballot. The vote could come down to which group shows up for a second referendum, those who chose “no” in 2021 or the 49% who said “yes.”

Regardless of how the elections go, Richmond residents should brace for a constant barrage of political advertising for the next 15 months.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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