Richmond, the capital city of Virginia, finds itself embroiled in a heated debate over the construction of a casino in the South Side as in a citywide referendum held in 2021, residents voted 51-49% against the casino project.
However, despite the outcome, the City Council has introduced an ordinance that could potentially bring the casino vote back on the ballot.
This controversial move has ignited a discussion among citizens and officials, highlighting differing perspectives on the economic and social implications of the proposed development.The ordinance has been introduced following a request made by the city to a Richmond Circuit Court judge in November, with the aim of remaining a contender for the impressive $500 million ONE Casino + Resort development.
Councilwoman Reva Trammell, representing the 8th District where the initial site was proposed, has been a vocal advocate for the project. Trammell believes that the casino will bring much-needed jobs and additional funding to the region.
She argues that the previous election did not accurately represent public opinion, as the casino vote was placed on the back of the ballots, causing many voters to overlook it.
"People were calling me standing in line to vote, screaming 'we can't find it,'" Trammell expressed. "I know that if we get another chance, it's going to pass because we're going to make it clear."
The Department of Elections reported that nearly 79,000 votes were cast in the 2021 casino referendum, surpassing the number of votes tallied for other positions on the same ballot. Most of the votes in favor of the casino came from precincts in the South Side, while opposition voters were primarily concentrated in the West End.
However, the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies, which has partnered with Petersburg, a nearby city, voiced their opposition to a second vote in Richmond. They stated that they would not proceed with their casino plans if Richmond were allowed a second vote, citing concerns about sharing the market with a rival facility.
The situation further escalated when Governor Glenn Youngkin signed a two-year budget in June 2022, granting Petersburg more time to decide whether it wanted a casino. The budget included a provision that prevented localities that had held failed casino referendums from attempting another vote.
This provision has left the General Assembly in a deadlock, as they struggle to reach an agreement on a revised state budget. The inclusion or exclusion of language allowing Petersburg to vote on a casino or preventing Richmond from holding a second vote remains a contentious issue.
Those opposed to the casino argue that the results of the previous referendum should be respected and that holding a second vote would disregard the will of the public.
Jeremy Davis, a resident of Richmond, voiced his concerns during a public meeting, stating, "Casinos' business model is to profit off of the exploitation of people. I firmly believe that money is overshadowing the will of the public. Sacrificing the well-being of the citizens is not the way to fund the city."
Despite the controversy, Mayor Levar Stoney and the Richmond City Council remain supportive of the casino project. They believe that it would boost tax revenue and lead to further development in the South Side.
Mayor Levar Stoney and the Richmond City Council
Advocates of the second vote hope that it would allow for a more extensive discussion and provide an opportunity to better educate the public about the potential benefits of a casino.
The City Council plans to vote on the proposal at its next regular meeting on June 12 at 6 p.m. As Richmond wrestles with conflicting viewpoints, the outcome of this vote will undoubtedly shape the city's future and determine whether the contentious casino project moves forward or remains in limbo.