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Second Richmond Casino Referendum Moves Closer To Reality

The first in a series of several votes on whether a commercial casino will be built in Richmond, Virginia have gone in favor of the project

richmond virginia's skyline adorns the james riverfront amid city council votes
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Derek Helling Avatar
3 mins read

The latest news out of Richmond, Virginia, when it comes to possible casino gaming, is that some votes took place to enable other votes which if those go well, should enable another vote this fall. That’s only if other people in the same city don’t vote to stop that vote, though.

The situation isn’t as complicated as that synopsis makes it sound. Time is of the essence in Virginia’s state capital, however, if proponents of a plan to erect a casino there want to see their dreams come true.

Richmond City Council votes to advance casino referendum

According to Em Holter of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a series of votes from members of Richmond’s council went in favor of bringing casino gaming to the city. That is, potentially. These votes represented preliminary action, however necessary.

Essentially, the City Council has voted to reauthorize a city-wide referendum on whether to allow casino gaming. Additionally, the referendum would be the deciding factor on an agreement between the city government and the casino developers.

Richmond has a deal in place with Urban ONE development and Churchill Downs for a casino on its south side. The city first submitted a question to voters in 2021.

The authorization of the referendum from the city is an important step toward Richmonders potentially voting on the casino issue for the second time in a two-year span. There are more votes yet pending before the people can vote, though.

Who still needs to vote before Richmonders can vote

The first vote that set these events in motion came in the Virginia legislature in 2020. That year, a gambling expansion law created potential casino licenses for Richmond and four other Virginia cities. Those were all contingent upon successful city referendums, however.

In 2021, the city’s residents said no to casino gaming in a vote of their own. However, that wasn’t the final vote on the matter. Proponents of the casino have submitted a new plan which adjusts the funding for the project.

Besides that, the proposal remains largely unaltered from its 2021 defeat. That might turn out to be to its advantage as well. The Virginia Lottery and a state court still need to approve the language of the proposed referendum for fall 2023 in Richmond.

Additionally, there’s still another potential plot twist in this story. It would involve, as the theme dictates, another potential vote in Richmond.

Budget amendment measure remains a possibility

To some degree, the Richmond City Council has been playing a game of “beat the clock” with the state government in Richmond.

As Holter reports, a proposed amendment to the state’s current budget would block a second casino referendum in Richmond. The same proposal would allow voters in Petersburg to hold a potential referendum of their own. That could potentially transfer the Richmond license to Petersburg instead.

However, action on that amendment has been absent for months. At the same time, that’s no guarantee of future inaction. Thus, the more quickly Richmond can get its referendum minted, the more likely it is to actually occur. State legislators could be less likely to block a referendum that is already approved by the Lottery and the state’s court system.

Even if everything goes swimmingly and a vote happens in November, that’s still no guarantee that a casino is coming to Richmond. The vote that ultimately mattered went awry for casino developers two years ago. It could happen again.

Could all these votes prove to be a huge waste?

According to RVA Magazine, opponents of the casino project in 2021 who managed to help sway the vote against the proposal are less optimistic about repeating that success. They cite even more resources being put toward persuading voters to the opposite end.

In 2021, the vote was decided by a margin of about 1,200 ballots against the casino. The casino developers wouldn’t necessarily have to change the minds of those 1,200 people, either. Such people staying home is just as good on their end.

While that premise works both ways, a barometer for public sentiment is near. Richmond Council Member Reva Trammell is holding a public forum on the issue on Thursday evening. That event may lend some insight into how a second referendum might play out.

Whether that vote will take place is still pending on some other votes, though.

Derek Helling Avatar
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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

View all posts by 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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