Casino competitors roll the dice in Richmond
Two operators are battling it out to build a casino in Richmond, the final city where a casino can be built in Virginia under current state law. Later in May, an advisory panel is expected to recommend a casino proposal for consideration by Richmond City Council and, ultimately, city voters in November.
Richmonders worried about crime and increased traffic in their neighborhoods have blasted the proposed $600 million Live! Casino & Hotel from The Cordish Cos., which would be built just outside the trendy Scott’s Addition neighborhood. Urban One’s $600 million ONE casino, which would be built on 100 acres owned by Altria Group Inc. off Interstate 95 in a largely industrial area, has faced less pushback.
Cordish’s pitch for its 300-room Live! Casino & Hotel resort includes a pledge to pay the city $200 million over 15 years to “help fund critical community services such as education, infrastructure, health care, parks [and] recreation, workforce development and affordable housing.”
In April, the city cut Bally’s Corp.’s $650 million casino proposal, which was proposed for Richmond’s Stratford Hills neighborhood, because of site access and permitting factors. Bally’s President and CEO George Papanier said the company was “disappointed and surprised” by the city’s decision to nix its proposal, which would have included a $100 million upfront payment to the city.
Residents near the Bally’s and Live! sites have spoken out against the proposals, while others are asking whether the city needs a casino at all, despite significant concerns about aging school infrastructure and other budget items that could be assisted by tax income generated from a casino.
In March, anonymous flyers distributed around the city’s North Side voiced opposition to the Cordish proposal, asking residents to “tell them to build it over there,” referring to Richmond’s less affluent and more racially diverse South Side.
City Councilor Michael Jones, who represents a district next to the ONE casino location, tweeted that he was “thoroughly disgusted by this rhetoric,” adding that “the South Side is not the North Side’s trash can or red light district.”
Unlike Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth, where voters overwhelmingly approved casinos last November, it’s possible Richmond could reject a casino, says Rich Meagher, an associate professor of political science at Randolph-Macon College. Aside from “progressive folks who don’t want a casino,” nonscientific polls by local officials and Nextdoor comments show considerable opposition.
But, Meagher notes, once the dust settles and City Council chooses a project for voters to consider — particularly if it is Urban One’s plan — “concerns could evaporate,” and “Richmond could return to the dynamic that casinos are fine.”