RVA’s Casino Race: One-on-one with Urban One discussing casino proposal, community concerns

Richmond

Update: On Thursday, May 20, 2021, Richmond’s Resort Casino Evaluation Panel recommended the ONE Casino + Resort plans to move forward as the city’s casino gaming operator. Read the full story


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After a competitive process, only two companies are left standing to build a casino in Richmond: Urban One and Cordish Companies.

Six hopefuls put in bids to build a resort-style casino in the city, but four have been axed from the running. In March, the city eliminated the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos, and Wind Creek Hospitality. After much opposition from Richmond residents, Bally’s was eliminated in late April.

By the end of May, the Resort Casino Evaluation Panel is expected to make its recommendation to Mayor Levar Stoney on which operator and location is the best fit for the city. Richmond residents will vote on a referendum during November’s election and decide if a casino is built in the city.

Urban One is looking to bring a Las Vegas-style casino resort to the city’s Southside. The project would be located along Walmsley Boulevard and Commerce Road– on the Philip Morris site.

The $517 million project, called One Casino, would include a luxury hotel, a 3,000-seat theater, broadcast production studios, 12 restaurants and bars, a 55-acre green space with walking trails and dog parks, and a gaming facility. The gaming area would include 110 table games, a poker room, and 2,000 slot machines.

Alfred Liggins, CEO of Urban One, is the majority investor of the project.

“The minority inclusion aspect was key for us in this project,” said Liggins.

8News was in attendance in February when Liggins unveiled plans for One Casino. Liggins stated, if selected, the casino would be the only black-owned casino in the United States.

Urban One operates TV One and multiple radio stations in Richmond and across the country, but the black-owned media company is looking to further its roots in the River City.

“Richmond, we view this as home,” Liggins told 8News. “Our headquarters are right down the road in Richmond. This a project that’s never been offered or proposed in Southside ever before and I’m proud of it.”

Liggins envisions One Casino as an ‘anchor’ on the Southside, an area of Richmond that’s been slower to develop economically and hasn’t had the same opportunities as other parts of the city. Liggins says that the casino will take the 8th District and Southside to the next level both financially and economically. He plans for the average salary to be $55,000 annually.

“Job creation is key,” Liggins said. “People of the Southside will have access to these jobs first. The jobs that are created will end up putting more money into these Southside communities.”

The casino proposal is something that Southside residents and local associations have publicly supported. During Urban One’s February announcement, the company said it had already secured local vendors and local restaurants.

Some of the partnerships include those with Virginia Union University, the Black History and Culture Museum and Richmond restaurants like Perch, Mama J’s, Southern Kitchen, Stella’s, EAT Restaurant Partners and Richmond Restaurant Group offerings.

Last month, the Richmond Highway Neighborhood Civic Association openly endorsed ONE Casino and praised the economic benefits.  

“We have had not one opposition, not one, within our community that have said that we do not want the casino,” said Chares Willis, President of the Richmond Highway Neighborhood Civic Association.

Community support is one of the things Liggins says has set them apart. That and the fact that Urban one specializes in entertainment.

During an interview with Cordish Companies, ONE Casino’s direct competition, COO Zed Smith questioned if ONE had the right experience.

“Our competition has developed zero casinos and we’ve developed 6 over the last 15 years,” Smith told 8News.

Cordish Companies operates Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland, Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia, Live! Casino Pittsburgh, and the two Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos in Hollywood, California and Tampa, Florida.

8News asked Liggins for a response to Smith’s comments about their experience level in casino operation.

“We’re the largest minority partner with MGM in National Harbor and we own about 7 percent of it,” Liggins said. “But we also did partner with a company Peninsula Pacific, which has been in the gaming business for well over 20 years.”

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment is the same company that operates Rosie’s Gaming Emporium and will be managing the casino.

Liggins says Rosie’s and ONE Casino will not be in competition and instead offer people more options. He said Urban One has also partnered with Live Nation, a global entertainment company that operates and manages ticket sales.

While ONE Casino has garnered community support, there’s still some concern about what this project would mean for the 8th district, specifically crime.

“Crime actually goes down when casinos are brought in because casinos bring in their own security forces, a thousand security cameras and surveillance,” Liggins explained. “There will be thousands of people milling around in activity and when there’s activity crime goes down.”

Reports have been made that Liggins donated money to state and local politicians, most recently Councilman Mike Jones. 8News asked Liggins about the donations and if he wanted to address the reports.

“We are a national African American targeted and African American owned media company. We have been around for 40 years,” Liggins said. “From the inception we have supported African American legislators seeking higher office. Votes is the way you unlock opportunity for all Americans, in particular Black Americans and it is our pattern to support those people who are in office and seeking office. We’ve done nothing more than we’ve done in the past. That’s in the DNA of our company. No contribution is a nefarious one specific contribution for a specific idea or favor. That’s who our company is. We support Black causes.”

Once built, ONE is estimated to generate more than $525 million in new tax revenue and community benefits for the city over the next decade.

Liggins is hoping their push for inclusion, community support and economic advancement will land them on top.

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