RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The majority of the Richmond City Council voted to pass one resolution and two ordinances related to the revival of the Urban ONE casino project on Monday night. Councilwoman Reva Trammell has spearheaded efforts to bring the referendum back on the ballot this November after the proposal failed in 2021.
Trammell’s items on the agenda were met with support from most of her colleagues, Urban ONE CEO Alfred Liggins and members of the community. However, Richmonders from across the city brought strong opposition to the project calling out issues they have with casino gambling as well as disdain for the original vote being ignored by city council. The only councilmember to vote against the casino related items was Katherine Jordan, who also stood alone in opposition last year.
The three votes included, Resolution 2022-R003 to select RVA Entertainment Holdings, LLC, as Richmond’s preferred casino gaming operation. 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.
City council voted to approve Ordinance 2022-015 executing a Community Support Agreement between the city and parties involved with the casino, as well as Ordinance 2022-014 which executes the Casino Host Community Agreement.
Ahead of the meeting, the councilmembers supporting the efforts to bring a second casino referendum to the ballot sent a release stating they would propose a two-cent tax rate reduction for residents along with the development. They also stated that casino revenue would be used for school and city capital improvement projects.
“I strongly believe that the revenue from the resort casino project can purposefully be used to provide property tax relief for residents across the city,” said Councilwoman Ann-Frances Lambert in the release.
During the early days of Trammell’s efforts to revive the casino referendum, it was unclear where Urban ONE stood on second chance. The company did not respond to 8News’ request for comment during recent reporting.
That changed on Monday night, with Urban ONE CEO Alfred Liggins joining the public commenters in support of the project. 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.
The CEO stated that after the first referendum vote, many Richmond residents remained confused about where money from the casino would actually be going. He said this go around, Urban ONE needed to be more specific and give people a reason to vote for the casino.
The casino referendum was narrowly voted down in 2021 and now people in opposition of the plan are asking Richmond City Council to let that vote stand.
A resident of Richmond’s 6th district stated during public comment that the council’s efforts were anti-democratic and a form of voter suppression. They said it was a frequent tactic of casinos to push past public decisions made against them.
A speaker from the 4th district called the council’s efforts a “disappointment” and told them they should be ashamed of what they were doing. Another commenter said, the city’s vote against the project was the result of hard work from the opposition and not gift cards or free tanks of gas.
Other residents opposed to the project spoke on personal stories or data gathered about gambling addictions. One speaker cited the possibility those suffering from gambling addictions could need thousands in financial support each year. Another said the city already doesn’t provide sufficient addiction resources, including for gambling addiction.
Councilwoman Jordan continued to be the only member of council against the proposal. Her district voted against the referendum in 2021 and saw avid opposition of casino plans in general.
“It gives me no pleasure to not go along with the sentiment tonight,” Jordan said.
She said she liked Liggins and Urban ONE but that her reservations towards a casino project haven’t changed. The councilwoman stated that she hoped her concerns about the project were unfounded.
She also said that had the referendum been passed, she would not have supported efforts to bring the topic to a vote again.
Many other members of city council defended their choice, with Andreas Addison saying bring up the vote a second time was not an act of voter suppression, explaining that Virginians always vote in elections every November.
The reason the councilmembers gave for their enthusiastic support of the casino and resort was economic development. They spent their comment periods speaking on the number of jobs it could bring and the amount of revenue the city could see. They insisted the city would not be paying for this project, Urban ONE would be funding it and they would only be receiving revenue.
They touched on what they felt could hinder the passing of the project, with both Mike Jones and Stephanie Lynch touching on the public perception of casino operations.
Lynch said she thought it was council’s job to help residents unpack the underlying assumptions and “moral value assignments” they have about casino gambling in particular. She talked about creating a healing moment for people who perceive casino gambling as more negative than other forms of gambling.
Jones said that Richmond already has gambling Rosie’s Gaming Emporium and grey market machines.
Another point the members made is that the areas closest to the proposed casino were the ones most in favor of it. Trammell said that if passed the referendum would benefit the southside and the rest of the city.
Voters from the 8th district gave their support during public comment and by reaching out to Trammell on Monday evening.
Other familiar faces in the push for the casino proposal, Clovia Lawrence and Charles Willis spoke to city council on Monday night to advocate for the development project.