Proposal Virginia Capital Urged to Abandon Casino Plan by Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial Board

The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial board believes it would be judicious for the Virginia capital city to forgo its state-allocated casino opportunity and instead allow nearby Petersburg to deliberate a gaming development.

The editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch believes a casino in the city would be detrimental to businesses situated in the capital’s Arts District. Hence, they encourage Richmond city leaders to reassess hosting another local gaming referendum. (Image: Virginia Main Street)

Richmond was one of the five cities designated to contemplate a commercial brick-and-mortar casino through a bill passed in 2020 and signed by then-Governor Ralph Northam (D). The purpose of this gaming bill was to offer these economically deprived cities a financial jumpstart by way of a resort.

Despite a close vote, the proposed casino called One Casino + Resort failed to gain approval from Richmond voters. The $565 million plan was jointly presented by Urban One and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E). A mere 2,000 votes were the deciding factor in the outcome against the project.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial board believes Richmond’s city government should not organize a second gaming referendum in November. According to the newspaper, Richmond should provide a smoother path for Petersburg to qualify as a sixth casino host location.

The newspaper’s editorial board is unconvinced about the economic advantages a casino could provide. Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC) predicted a casino in Richmond would generate gross gaming revenue of almost $300 million a year.

The tax proceeds from this income would amount to approximately $80 million annually, with an estimated $18 million reserved for the Richmond city government. Nevertheless, JLARC also concluded that only 4% to 10% of the casino’s revenue would come from out-of-town visitors.

The newspaper’s opinion piece states that people are not likely to significantly increase their recreational spending when a new casino is established. For example, spending $200 on a Saturday night for dinner and poker is money that could have been used for other activities such as going to the cinema, attending a ball game, or going to a concert.

The newspaper opines that the additional gaming revenue from a casino would mainly be at the expense of existing restaurants and nearby entertainment-focused businesses. This is known as economic displacement or the substitution effect.

Richmond Cleared for Revote

At the end of February, the Virginia General Assembly adjourned after passing a so-called “skinny” budget that provided essential funding for the state. Last week, House and Senate-appointed negotiators started discussing less critical spending.

During the 2023 General Assembly session, state Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond, Petersburg) unsuccessfully attempted to include a provision in the budget to ban Richmond from holding another gaming referendum until 2024. Morrissey has also been advocating for Petersburg to be allowed to consider a casino instead of Richmond.

Petersburg city officials have joined forces with Baltimore-based Cordish Companies on a project called Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia. Nevertheless, Petersburg currently has no legal authority to present the resort plan to voters through a referendum.

Urban One has stated that it is still interested in Richmond. However, its development partner and potential gaming operator has changed from Peninsula Pacific Entertainment to Churchill Downs, Inc. after the latter acquired P2E last year for almost $2.5 billion.

Unless the budget negotiators opt to add a clause prohibiting Richmond from holding a second casino referendum — something that appears unlikely at this time — only the Richmond City Council would have the legal power to conduct a gaming vote in November.