RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) said Urban One’s CEO backed Richmond’s second casino effort after Petersburg’s mayor did not give assurances that the media conglomerate would be the city’s “preferred vendor” if it were to be approved for a casino.
Alfred Liggins, the CEO of Urban One, met with Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham, members of the city council and Morrissey after Richmond voters narrowly rejected The One Casino and Resort project last November, the state senator said Tuesday.
In an interview with 8News’ Jackie DeFusco, Morrissey said he called Liggins about a possible casino resort in Petersburg the day after the effort failed in Richmond.
“That day or the next day we met with the mayor, the city councilmen down in Petersburg and the meeting went very well,” Morrissey said. “Towards the end of it, Alfred Liggins said ‘so I’m assuming I would be the preferred vendor to be the casino operator?'”
“And everybody looked at each other and the mayor said, ‘No. No, it is a competitive process. You’ll have to go through the process like everybody else.’ And at that point, shortly thereafter, the meeting ended, and the next thing I know Casino One is trying to get a re-do in Richmond,” he claimed.
In a statement Wednesday, Liggins confirmed that he met with Mayor Parham and Morrissey “shortly after the election when no one knew Richmond’s future intentions.” Liggins, who declined to be interviewed, did not deny Morrissey’s account of the meeting.
“I’ve had nothing but constructive conversations with Senator Morrissey and hope to continue to in the future,” Liggins said in his statement. “We both want solutions that will move the region forward and Richmond has put forth a plan that will provide tax relief, create 1500 new jobs, and provide critical funding for education and community infrastructure.”
On Jan. 24, the Richmond City Council approved plans to have a second casino vote and council members and Mayor Levar Stoney are proposing a 2-cent reduction to the city’s real estate tax if voters ultimately pass the referendum. The legislation passed by the council selects RVA Entertainment Holdings, LLC, a subsidiary of Urban One, as Richmond’s “preferred casino gaming operator.”
Morrissey is behind a legislative effort in the 2022 General Assembly session to allow Petersburg to have its own casino referendum for voters.
His bill in the Virginia Senate, and one in the House from Del. Kim Taylor (R-Chesterfield), would add Petersburg to the list of eligible cities for a casino and force cities that have failed to pass casino referendums in the past, like Richmond, to wait five years before holding another vote.
A spokeswoman for the city of Petersburg, Joanne Williams, could not confirm or deny the accusations made by Morrissey but shared a statement from the mayor after 8News requested an interview with Parham.
“The City has made no assurances to any gaming/entertainment company,” Mayor Parham said in a statement Tuesday. “The General Assembly must first grant the citizens of Petersburg the opportunity to vote on a casino/hotel/convention center complex.”
8News reached out to each member of Petersburg’s City Council on Tuesday for comment on Morrissey’s allegations, but only one responded.
“I was not at the meeting in Richmond but I do know it will be a competitive process, that’s all I can add right now,” Petersburg City Council member Darrin Hill wrote in an email to 8News.
Urban One, a Maryland-based media company, partnered with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based company, on the nearly $600 million One Casino and Resort project that failed to get approval in Richmond.
Peninsula Pacific Entertainment owns the Colonial Downs Racetrack in New Kent County and multiple Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums across the commonwealth.
“This is not Richmond. There are no back deals going on,” Morrissey told 8News, adding that he assures Petersburg residents that any potential casino bid would include the “best person for the process.”
Before Richmond voted on the casino proposal, questions emerged over the political donations Urban One, Liggins and the project’s investors gave to Mayor Stoney and City Council members. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Liggins gave Morrissey a $1,000 contribution on Jan. 6.
Richmond City Council member Reva Trammell introduced the legislation seeking to get Richmond a second casino vote, which would be built in her district. Trammell and a spokesperson for Stoney did not respond to 8News’ requests for comment.