Urban One, Richmond back off second casino referendum push


Voters in Richmond, Virginia, narrowly voted down a casino referendum in 2021, but some local stakeholders, including Mayor Levar Stoney, wanted to try again in 2022. Now, after months of heated debate with the City of Petersburg and Sen. Joe Morrissey about the legitimacy of holding another referendum, supporters are giving up on their 2022 referendum hopes. 

Morrissey successfully spearheaded an effort to ban Richmond from holding a 2022 referendum through a state budget amendment, but Richmond stakeholders threatened legal action. Urban One, the national media company planning to build the casino in Richmond, was initially on board with legal action against the budget amendment. 

Thursday, however, Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins said he wants to see Richmond aim for another casino referendum in 2023, rather than pursuing legal action in 2022. 

“This has created a legal conflict and a huge cloud of doubt,” Liggins said. “We don’t think that a protracted legal battle is in the best interest of the City of Richmond and the state of Virginia, and also would probably not get decided in time for us to have early voting in late September.”

A new plan

Liggins’ comments led the city to issue an official statement regarding a 2022 casino referendum. 

“The City of Richmond, at the request of our longstanding community partner, Urban One, is preparing to file a petition to remove the casino referendum from the November 2022 ballot,” the statement said. “Understanding Urban One’s reasoning, the city stands ready to move the proposed One Casino + Resort forward in 2023.” 

🚨#BREAKING: Urban One plans to put ONE Casino + Resort on 2023 ballot for #Richmond voters – a change from original plans for a second vote this November.

This comes after state lawmakers pass a budget amendment – stopping the city from holding a referendum this year. @NBC12

— Desiree Montilla NBC12 (@desmontilla) August 4, 2022

The city and casino supporters hope a referendum could pass in 2023, paving the way for a casino to eventually be built in Richmond. 

“This temporary delay will not deter Urban One or the City of Richmond from working together to ensure a bright future for our residents,” the statement said. “We are committed to continuing to build community and creating jobs and opportunities for all Richmonders.”

Five Virginia casinos

Virginia legislation allows for five cities — Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Richmond, and Portsmouth — to build casinos, and the four cities other than Richmond all approved casinos via referendum.

The debate surrounding the location of the fifth casino rages on between Richmond and nearby Petersburg. The budget amendment blocking Richmond from the 2022 referendum also calls for a study about the possible economic impact of a casino in Petersburg. 

Prior to Thursday’s announcement from Urban One and city officials, Morrissey and Del. Kim Taylor sent a letter to Gov. Glenn Youngkin pleading for his help. 

“We are respectfully requesting that you direct the Attorney General’s Office to utilize its legal authority to prevent Richmond from placing the above mentioned referendum on the November 2022 ballot,” the final sentence of the letter read.  

While action from the Attorney General’s Office isn’t needed this year, the debate between local politicians in each jurisdiction will likely intensify again next year, in light of the Petersburg study and Richmond’s plan for a 2023 referendum.

Photo: Shutterstock

Author: Ryan Gonzales