Casino Hopes Stay Alive in Richmond

profile image of bmr
Kvnga / Unsplash

Referendums are essentially trial balloons to measure the temperature of the voters’ will on political issues. One of those hot-button topics on November’s ballot was the viability of a casino in Richmond, Virginia. The issue was brought forth, the voters had their say, and it was narrowly rejected. End of story, right? Well, not quite.

Richmond City Councilwoman Reva Trammell wants to give the voters another bite at the apple, time to correct their mistake if you will. Councilwoman Trammell represents the southside voting district where the Urban ONE casino project was to reside if it gained passage through the referendum and subsequently made it through the legislative process.

And to this end, she is spearheading the petition drive to get the referendum on the ballot yet again. The petition states, “We request that the Richmond City Council consider bringing ONE Casino back for a referendum in 2022.” But getting the question back on the ballot is only part of the problem. The other issue is the deafening silence on the end of the company behind the proposed project. They have yet to comment on a possible return to the Richmond project.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a casino proponent like Trammell, said after the results of the referendum were announced, “Obviously, I’m very disappointed. Mostly disappointed in the number of people missing out on good-paying quality jobs.”

Stoney further added, “I think that map was fascinating. We are still a divided community not just by the river but by race as well. I don’t think the vote was about race. I think when you look at the map this is where our white residents live, and this is where our black residents live. Our white residents voted no. Our black residents many voted yes.”

And while 51.4 percent of the Richmond voters rejected the idea of a casino, their neighbors could be interested in getting into the casino business. Democratic State Senator Joe Morrissey is reportedly backing a plan to bring a casino to Petersburg, 30 minutes south of Richmond, which could be a primary factor in his opposition to Trammell’s petition, despite the fact he initially backed the Urban ONE casino in the capital city.

Morrissey has stated that he has drafted a bill that would prevent Richmond from holding another casino referendum for five years. “We have to respect the democratic vote,” he said.

“By analogy, let’s say somebody lost an election by a narrow margin. OK, what? Have an election next year, and if they don’t win, next year after that? And then, eventually, you could win, and that’s just inconsistent with the democratic process.”

To which Councilwoman Trammell responded, “Senator Joe Morrissey, don’t do this to us.”

Petersburg, on the other hand, could be a viable site for a casino as the community would likely welcome a new source of revenue to replace the one lost years ago in the manufacturing sector.

Rich Meagher, a political scientist at Randolph-Macon College, was asked about the effects of a casino in impoverished Petersburg, noting the general vicinity could be saturated with casinos considering proposals are being discussed for Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth.

“They’re probably already cannibalizing not only the same audience but the same entertainment dollars,” Meagher said. “Where else will they make money but from the folks who are nearby?”