RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The court order allowing a new casino vote in Richmond was suspended by a judge the same day it was due to be finalized.
Richmond Circuit Court Judge William R. Marchant, who signed off on the July 25 order to add a citywide referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot, made the decision Tuesday to give the city attorney’s office and a nonprofit time to file arguments in the legal effort to derail the city’s casino dreams.
Richmond Lodge No. 1 of the Good Lions, Inc., a nonprofit that holds charitable gaming twice a week at Pop’s Bingo World in Midlothian, filed motions to intervene – or enter a proceeding – in the court order and block the city from asking voters if they want a casino resort in Southside.
Judge Marchant did not rule on those efforts Tuesday but did grant the Good Lions’ emergency motion to suspend the court order to give the parties until 3 p.m. Friday to file legal arguments on the nonprofit’s motion to intervene. The order was set to be final on Aug. 15.
The judge told Christopher Robertson, the Good Lions’ attorney, and Richmond Senior Assistant City Attorney Wirt P. Marks that suspending the order would give them time to provide “some more law” to back up their arguments on whether the nonprofit has legal standing to intervene.
“You have three days,” Marchant said Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court, adding that he would file his ruling on the motion to intervene on Aug. 23.
Before the judge’s decision Tuesday, Marks raised concerns over the “great uncertainty” that delays in the process could have on notifying the public and putting the question on the ballot.
Marchant said the suspension shouldn’t derail those efforts — unless he grants the motion to intervene and the Good Lions’ effort continues — telling Marks there would be plenty of time for the city to follow state law and give notice to voters in a newspaper at least once a week for three straight weeks.
“The Court’s action today merely provides additional time for the parties to fully brief the Judge,” Richmond City Attorney Laura K. Drewry wrote in an email Tuesday. “The City remains confident in its legal position.”
Richmond has pushed for a casino project since its first effort in 2021 was narrowly voted down and a state budget provision kept another referendum off the 2022 ballot.
In June, the City Council approved a proposal for a $562 million casino resort in Southside from a joint venture of Urban One Inc. and Churchill Downs. After getting approval from the Virginia Lottery, a petition was filed for a court order to have a second referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Judge Marchant signed the July 25 order to allow Richmond to hold a new casino vote, telling Robertson in court Tuesday that he believed the city made sure all the “bases were touched” with its petition seeking the court order.
Good Lions’ motion asking the court to reconsider its order allowing the question to be on the ballot argues, among other claims, the Richmond City Council violated the Virginia Constitution by not allowing a complete public bidding process for the latest project.
Robertson reiterated that claim in court Tuesday, telling Marchant the Good Lions’ motion was to check whether the Richmond City Council followed the proper process when selecting the developers, specifically Urban One for a second time, without the bidding process used in 2021.
Marks argued the casino doesn’t need to go through a complete public bidding process because it will be built on private land. Roberston disputed that claim, telling the court that allowing developers to bid on a project that voters have to approve is “inherently part of the process.”
He also argued the Good Lions did not bring forward claims that the referendum being on the ballot would harm the nonprofit, saying economic concerns over a potential casino resort being built in Southside was not enough to challenge this year’s vote.
The judge signaled that a separate court filing, such as an injunction request, could be the better route for the Good Lions. Roberston told 8News that they believe intervening in the case is the best path forward and he hasn’t considered an injunction, but he didn’t rule it out.
If the city’s effort survives legal challenges and a potential budget provision, voters will have the final say on if they want a Richmond casino this November.
The proposed project would create 1,300 new jobs, developers said in the proposal approved by the city, and include a luxury hotel, entertainment venues, a casino, a sportsbook, restaurants and a 55-acre park.
Richmond would receive one-time upfront payments of $26.5 million for the project and the casino resort would be built at 2001 Walmsley Boulevard and 4700 Trenton Avenue, according to the proposal.
Early voting for Virginia’s Nov. 7 elections starts on Sept. 22 and runs through Nov. 4.