RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The billboards may be gone, but the chance of a casino in the City of Richmond is not.
The only councilmember to vote against the casino related items was Katherine Jordan, who also stood alone in opposition last year.
Local leaders voted on Resolution 2022-R003 to select RVA Entertainment Holdings, LLC as Richmond’s preferred casino gaming operator. This resolution includes that the casino would operate at 2001 Walmsley Boulevard and 4700 Trenton Avenue. It also moves forward the process to establish a ballot referendum.
Councilwoman Reva Trammell has spearheaded efforts to bring the referendum back on the ballot this November after the proposal failed in 2021.
“My people felt that they were really cheated. A lot of people felt like that,” she told 8News on Tuesday. “The voting precinct at Hickory Hill was not opened up until a week later. The people did not realize that it was on the back of the ballot. They couldn’t find it.”
A media release sent out Monday evening from the city read, in part:
City officials are poised to put forth a new resolution to bring the One Casino to Richmond. Empowered with the knowledge that residents want to know how the casino revenue will be spent, city staff proposes a two-cent tax rate reduction and uses the additional revenue for one-time capital improvement projects for Richmond City Public Schools and the City of Richmond. The infusion of 1500 jobs and millions of dollars in economic growth and development that will help Richmond grow is exactly what many leaders and community members desire.
Trammell said Tuesday that tax reduction for Richmond property owners was always in discussion, even when voters cast their ballots in 2021. But this information provides a set amount.
“The message wasn’t out there. I don’t think we got the message clear enough to let them know that this is what the money, the $25 million — it was not going to just be in southside or 8th District,” she said. “It’s something that would help everybody, and what would help everybody? To reduce the real estate tax.”
That $25 million is a reference to the $25.5 million in casino payments that Urban ONE had said would be paid out to the city for the development of ONE Casino + Resort.
However, 8News Political Analyst Richard Meagher said that a tax rate reduction for Richmond residents could, in theory, be an option separate from a renewed casino vote.
“The voter decision was clear last year. But there is this kind of racial equity issue, in that if you divide the city into a white electorate and a Black electorate, however problematic that is, majority of Black folks voted for the casino, or at least we say voters from the districts where we have a majority of Black residents,” he said. “There’s this sense always that it was kind of, like, wealthier white people who were opposed to the casino.”
Trammell also said that voters did not realize the casino development would be paid for by Urban ONE, and would not come out of taxpayers’ pockets.
But community organizer Allan-Charles Chipman, who previously ran for Richmond City Council’s 6th District seat, argued that casino would perpetuate economic exploitation.
“I’ve met people who have been hurt by addiction,” he said. “I think the real racial inequity is that, somehow, they’re pitching that Southside can’t develop without a casino, even though every other district has gotten the development and the priorities that they need without it, and so if we can develop other parts of our city without economic exploitation, Southside deserves that same dignity and that same chance to do that.”
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Ann-Frances Lambert appeared to shift her stance on the issue of a casino re-vote in Richmond.
“I would not be voting for the casino papers if there was not a significant change to the deal that was voted down last November,” she said. “To be precise, I stated that it would have to address one of the City’s top issues, like gun violence or rapidly increasing property taxes.”
Lambert was one of the council members who voted in favor of a potential re-vote Monday night. She sent out a statement Tuesday evening, clarifying her position:
Last night, I voted for those papers because the new deal between Urban ONE and the City includes a 2 cent reduction in property taxes. This is significant because with every property tax cut, there is also a corresponding cut in services and it would be unwise to cut any city services during an inflationary crisis and a global pandemic. Including the two-cent reduction without a corresponding cut in City services is a transformative development because as we speak there are seniors and long term residents on fixed incomes that are at risk of becoming unhoused. Our city’s housing market is one of the hottest on the east coast and local government has no control over that. Property tax relief is something that could benefit every single household in the city of Richmond. At the end of the day, the voters should decide if they want property tax relief or no casino and resort. That’s a new choice that wasn’t available to voters last November. I think that decision should be made democratically at the ballot box. In fact, not to allow voters to have this choice and make their voices heard with regards to property tax relief would have been anti-democratic.
In November, 50.95% of Richmond voters cast their ballots against ONE Casino + Resort, while 49.05% voted in favor. That’s a difference of less than 1,500 ballots.
“I think the people voted it down because they didn’t fully understand,” Trammell said. “It’s going to be an economic development for all, for all of us: jobs, tax revenue. When you have a good tax base and you’ve got good money coming in, that can help projects like infrastructure, drainage, things like that.”
Trammell, who represents the 8th District, noted that the majority of voters in her district cast their ballots in favor of the casino.
But Meagher and Chipman argued that considering another vote on a casino in Richmond just a few months after the majority of residents said “no” to the project is anti-democratic.
“We’re outside City Hall, and there’s this big poster hanging that says, ‘We can shape our future.’ But, apparently, we can’t if their donors disagree, and it’s an anti-democratic process that happened last night, and unfortunately, this is what casinos do,” Chipman said. “It’s really not about banking on a fair and equitable election. It’s really banking on exhaustion, that people get tired.”
Until recently, it was unclear where Urban ONE stood on a second chance for ONE Casino + Resort in Richmond. But on Tuesday, Urban ONE Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Karen Wishart sent the following statement to 8News:
Urban ONE thanks the Administration and City Council members for their confidence in ONE Resort + Casino and their recognition of the thousands of jobs, much-needed tax revenues, investment in infrastructure, and the other tremendous economic benefits the project will bring to the City of Richmond. We are delighted with the outcome of last night’s vote by the City Council to petition the Circuit Court to allow another vote on this project and are appreciative of the continued community support that we have received. More importantly, empowered with the knowledge that Richmond residents want to know how the revenue from ONE will be spent, yesterday, City staff proposed a two-cent tax rate reduction and additional one-time capital projects for Richmond City Public Schools and the City of Richmond. We are encouraged that this vote will be different with Council demonstrating they have heard their constituents’ call for greater clarity and transparency, and we pledge to work with the City Council as they provide greater certainty about how the revenue generated by this project will improve the lives of the citizens of Richmond.
Wishart confirmed what Urban ONE CEO Alfred Liggins had said at the Richmond City Council meeting Monday night about the company’s support for another attempt to make the project a reality in Virginia’s capital city. He used his allotted two minutes to state that the company has an established track record of bringing opportunity and equity to the Richmond community. Liggins said he believed in the democratic process and that it allowed for multiple choices and second chances.
However, ONE Casino + Resort could all be derailed in Richmond by a different hurdle: Sen. Joe Morrissey’s push to move the project to Petersburg.
“Richmond’s loss is going to be Petersburg’s gain,” he previously told 8News in November, just days after the general election. “Jobs come into the area, people are employed. It’s just an economic engine. The likes of which we’ve never seen before in Petersburg.”
Since then, the state senator has said that he would introduce his own bill in the General Assembly that would effectively block the City of Richmond from holding another vote for five years. The bill remains in committee.