Urban ONE Casino A No-Go In Virginia

Written By J.R. Duren on September 27, 2022
Richmond Virginia casino project dies with no referendum in November.

Urban ONE Casino would’ve been a modern, stylish addition to Richmond’s economy.

Unfortunately, the Virginia casino will never break ground. Its contract with Richmond was contingent on a November referendum vote that will not take place. So, rather than have voters decide if the casino will become a reality, Urban ONE has fizzled.

The nixed casino plans are a blow to Richmond, where the city council and mayor have been strong proponents of the casino.

City’s wishes conflicted with General Assembly

This past June, the Virginia General Assembly made amendments to the state budget that undercut South Richmond’s push for a referendum vote.

Basically, legislators chose not to allow Richmond to conduct a referendum vote about adding a new casino. Furthermore, it chose to bar the state lottery from issuing the casino’s operators a gaming license.

So, even if Richmond leaders were able to appeal the legislature’s referendum and voters approved the new casino, Urban ONE would not be able to get a casino license.

Why did legislators undercut the Virginia casino?

A few factors were working against Richmond city leaders. First, the Urban ONE Casino+Resort project already went to a referendum in 2021. The referendum failed, with voters voting 2-1 against the proposal.

At the time, certain city leaders believed the referendum failure was due to, in part, racial divides in the city. Urban ONE’s CEO is Black, and Black city leaders and national celebrities championed the project.

Data from the Richmond Times-Dispatch indicates that “no Richmond precinct with a majority white population voted in favor of the casino…in a close contest that was split along geographic and racial lines.”

Additionally, Richmond was one of five Virginia cities the legislature allowed to vote on a casino via referendum. It was the only city to vote “no” on a proposed casino.

Another contributing factor has nothing to do with Richmond. Lawmakers want to consider the impact of building a new casino in Petersburg, a city that was facing serious financial issues.

State Sen. Joe Morrissey told Axios in May that a Petersburg casino would be a huge boost for the area:

“Clearly and unquestionably, Petersburg is the much more deserving city for economic reasons. And that’s coming from the state senator that represents [Richmond and Petersburg].”

What’s next for Urban ONE?

The latest blow to the casino project may be a death knell. The referendum failed to get the votes. The state legislator is over Richmond’s failed attempts at bringing a casino to the city.

Urban ONE’s backers could try to get the project on a ballot again in 2023. However, the third time doesn’t seem to be the charm.

Opponents of the project successfully branded the casino as a political move meant to favor special interests and corporate control.

The casino’s only hope may be Petersburg. The city has had its financial struggles, and a new casino would provide jobs and a boost in tax revenue.

Additionally, if race played a role in the Richmond vote, Petersburg is the more promising option. Whereas Richmond’s Black and white population is nearly even, the demographic split in Petersburg is around 76% Black and 16% white.

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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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