Referendum’s defeat

Richmond becomes only Virginia city to turn down casino project

Render of Urban One's casino project in Richmond, Virginia.
Reading time 3:36 min
The $565M ONE Casino Resort, billed as the nation's only Black-owned casino and resort, was intended to produce an anticipated $25.55M upfront payment to the city government. Urban One's project was backed by the city Mayor Levar Stoney. Richmond became the only one of five eligible economically challenged Virginia cities to reject a casino opportunity, alleging traffic and crime problems arising from its construction.

Richmond voters rejected on Tuesday the proposed $565 million ONE Casino + Resort by a 1,200-vote margin. The project’s developer Maryland-based, African-American media company Urban One Inc., acknowledged the referendum’s defeat in a statement Wednesday. The city’s mayor did so as well. 

Richmond is now the only one of the five eligible economically challenged Virginia cities to decide to turn down the opportunity to build a casino. The proposed project was to produce an anticipated 1,300 jobs, as well as a $25.5 million upfront payment to the city government. 

Billed as the nation’s only Black-owned casino and resort, the property would have had 250 hotelc rooms, a 3,000-seat theater, 100,000 square feet of gaming space, 15 bars and restaurants and a 15,000-square-foot soundstage for Urban One film, TV and radio productions. 

Urban One casino render in Richmond

According to the Virginia Department of Elections, just over 51.4% of Richmond voters said no to the measure.

The media company, owner of 55 radio stations and a cable network, promised to spend $50 million on productions in Richmond and also planned to partner with Virginia Union University and Reynolds Community College for workforce training. Urban One predicted the casino would have a $5.7 billion economic impact during its first decade. Urban One owns four radio stations broadcast in Richmond.

In an official statement released Wednesday morning, Urban One CEO Alfred C. Liggins III said: “While extremely disappointed, our entire Urban One family, my mother and business partner, Cathy Hughes, and I accept the will of city of Richmond residents. For the last two years, we have worked so hard to build a large and inclusive tent with our ONE Casino + Resort project. We had a lot of loyal supporters who worked tirelessly on behalf of this project and for whom we will be eternally grateful”. 

“We ran a robust campaign and strongly believe this is a huge missed opportunity for Richmond residents to have a tourist attraction that would have provided the financial resources to improve schools and roads as well as enrich the lives of its citizens. Urban One has been a part of the fabric of Richmond for the last 22 years, and we will continue our tradition of serving the community”, he concluded.

The media company’s stock saw a 37.6% fall in share values Wednesday afternoon, from a high of $7 Tuesday at closing to about $4.50 per share as of early Wednesday afternoon.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also issued a statement Wednesday morning, saying:  “From the beginning, we said the people would decide. They have spoken, and we must respect their decision. While I believe this was a $565 million opportunity lost to create well-paying jobs, expand opportunity, keep taxes low and increase revenue to meet the needs of our growing city, I am proud of the transparent and public process we went through to listen to our residents and put this opportunity before our voters.”

North of James River, where most of Richmond’s wealthier neighborhoods are located, the prevailing vote was “no”, while the city’s South Side, where the casino would have been built, is where the majority of votes in favor were collected.

Residents rejected two other casino projects before, from Bally’s and The Cordish Companies. The rejection included picketing and the consequential discard of the proposals. The arguments for turning down Urban One’s casino were that the building of the casino would not lead to further promised economic development and could potentially cause traffic and crime problems

Even though Urban One’s project was to be built on 100 acres owned by Henrico County-based Altria Group Inc. off Interstate 95 in a largely industrial sector of the city, other concerns were raised as this is one of Richmond’s more impoverished districts. 

Mayor Stoney publicly backed the casino, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, Oscar winner Jamie Foxx and civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton. A former Richmond City Council candidate, Allan-Charles Chipman, was an outspoken opponent of the casino, saying it would exploit poor people in a historically disadvantaged area of the city.

Richmond was the last of five economically challenged Virginia cities to vote on a casino referendum after the Virginia General Assembly allowed Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond to have one commercial casino per locality if approved by local voters. The other four cities passed referendums with large margins in 2020, and their casinos are expected to be finished in late 2022 and 2023.

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