The Richmond casino ballot referendum that was to ask city voters how they’d prefer to use tax dollars generated by a theoretical commercial casino in town has been dropped.
The Richmond City Council this week decided to forgo the casino money question after City Attorney Haskell C. Brown III advised that the question is not currently warranted. The city’s top government lawyer said that’s because Richmond won’t presumably receive a casino tax dollar anytime soon.
Richmonders during the November 2021 election narrowly rejected a ballot referendum asking them to authorize a single casino resort. Nearly 51% of the vote went against the proposed $565 million project called ONE Casino + Resort.
City officials are planning to re-ask voters about a casino again this November. Richmond was one of five cities that qualified under state legislation passed in 2020 that allows economically struggling cities to consider authorizing a casino to generate new jobs and tax streams.
Casino on Hold
The Richmond City Council last week decided to not move forward with asking voters to support allocating casino tax money to help repair some 30 vacant school buildings. The local government concluded that asking residents about the fiscal benefits of gambling while lacking an actual casino in town would likely only confuse the populace.
But that doesn’t mean the council is giving up on its wishes to make Richmond a casino city. Along with Democratic Mayor Levar Stoney, the council is proceeding with a second casino ballot referendum this November.
The question will again ask city residents to support the ONE Casino + Resort plan, but this time with a clearer message hyping the economic benefits such a project might deliver to the region. But even if the local referendum gains support this time around, state lawmakers have roadblocked the casino from receiving necessary state approvals to begin construction on the more than half-billion dollar undertaking.
State lawmakers in their 2022-2024 biennium budget bill included a provision that blocks the Virginia Lottery from issuing Richmond a casino license unless its approved local gaming referendum is held “on or after November 1, 2023.”
This language amendment provides that the Virginia Lottery shall not grant an initial casino license for any host city without a referendum approved prior to July 1, 2022, unless a referendum on casino gaming is held on or after November 1, 2023, and approved by the voters of such city,” the legislature explains on the budget amendment.
Richmond was the only city of the five that qualified for a casino where city residents rejected the opportunity. Casinos are underway in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol.
Virginia for Gambling
Virginia’s first legal casino opened earlier this month in Bristol. The temporary gaming space is equipped with 900 slots and 20 table games. The facility will operate while the $400 million permanent resort — Hard Rock Bristol — is constructed over the next two years.
Sports betting, which was additionally legalized through the 2020 gaming bill signed by then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D), commenced in April of that year.
After decades of prohibiting most forms of gambling — the state lottery being the notable exception — Virginia’s newly emerging gaming industry is set for major growth in the coming years.
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