Could the Richmond casino end up elsewhere? It’s up to state legislators

Legislators might allow casino in another Richmond area county

Signs opposing a casino project are still displayed in Richmond’s West End. (Mike Platania photo)

Before Richmonders went to the polls a week ago, Alfred Liggins, CEO of the city’s would-be casino developer Urban One, theorized on what might happen if the casino referendum failed.

“If it doesn’t pass in the city of Richmond, I believe that the General Assembly will ultimately look to put it in a locality in and around Richmond in Central Virginia in one of the outlying counties that does want it,” Liggins told BizSense in a pre-election Q&A. “I do not believe that the General Assembly and the governor will want to leave Central Virginia without a gaming opportunity.”

Now that it’s official that Urban One’s proposal for a casino was rejected, it’s looking like his theory may be put to the test.

Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Dale City), who was one of the co-patrons of the 2020 bipartisan bill that assigned casino opportunities to five localities in Virginia, said he thinks the General Assembly may consider assigning the slot that had been slated for the city to another locality in the region.

Jeremy McPike

“The bill specified the City of Richmond, but the General Assembly was giving a nod to a Richmond-area casino,” McPike said. “I think the opportunity is out there. No discussions have taken place, (but) I think that’s probably something that needs to be considered for the next session.”

In addition to Richmond, the bill provided casino opportunities to four other localities in Virginia: Portsmouth, Norfolk, Danville and Bristol. Referendums in those regions passed in landslides last November. Richmond’s was the only one to fail. Just over 51 percent of the Richmond electorate voted against it.

McPike said for a casino referendum to happen elsewhere in Central Virginia, the General Assembly would have to pass a new bill to amend the section of the Virginia code to include that new locality. Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin would then have to sign the amended bill into law.

State delegates and senators can begin pre-filing bills for the General Assembly next week ahead of the session’s opening on Jan. 12.

None of the five other senators that were behind the successful casino bill — Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomac), Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg) and Todd E. Pillion (R-Abingdon) — were available for comment by press time.

Asked post-election, a spokesman for Urban One said it’s premature to speculate on next steps.

Another outside chance for a casino in Richmond could theoretically come from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

The tribe publicly announced its intentions to build a casino in Richmond in early 2020, but its proposal was among the first cut from the field of would-be operators in the spring.

Because the Pamunkey’s ancestral land covers much of the Richmond region, it can apply to the U.S. Department of the Interior to place land it owns in a trust. If approved, the land would become a piece of the Pamunkey reservation and a sovereign nation, not subject to local taxes, zoning or land-use regulations — and free to erect a casino if it chose to do so.

The tribe’s already begun purchasing land around Richmond, including the Southside site it was pitching to the city for a casino, as well as over 600 acres in New Kent.

However, it’s unclear what the Pamunkey’s plan is following the referendum.

In a statement, a spokesman for the tribe encouraged Richmonders to someday visit the tribe’s forthcoming casino in Norfolk, which it’s now working on following that city’s successful referendum last November.

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Brett Themore
Brett Themore
21 days ago

This was just not the place for a casino, which relegated it to a stop off the interstate, just beside an industrial behemoth, beyond a gamble and a show, why would you go there. It gave nothing to the city beyond cash to the city. The diamond district was the proper location. Still had easy access to the interstate, but with the live, work, play mixed use district likely to raise in the Diamond’s ashes, the casino would have created a great synergy with the new and existing businesses.

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
21 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

The Diamond District doesn’t need this risky proposition. It was the wrong proposal for that area. It might have been more appropriate on Navy Hill as a glitzy replacement for that decrepit rust bucket of a Coliseum at no cost or risk to taxpayers.

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
21 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Risky? If I recall there was no skin in the game for the city, aside from infrastructure improvements, which are sorely needed anyway. Risk is taken by the developer. I fail to see how diamond is any more/less risky than Navy hill? Both would have been a viable opportunity. Both are ripe for larger development, close to the interstate,. have opportunity for mutual beneficial growth. Perhaps its because because the Diamond is closer to more gentrified areas that it is perceived as more risky?

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
20 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

Casinos do NOT have synergy with the surrounding areas.they are designed t be hermetically sealed with no clocks, no daylight, and no reason to leave,so you stay in there ad spend your money.
Period.
No one is going to play a couple hands of blackjack then hop on the Pulse bus to go downtown, or pop out to a Squirrels game.

Bert Hapablap
Bert Hapablap
20 days ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

This right here is exactly right and what I’ve been telling others. Casinos want you to spend money there. From gambling to food to entertainment they are a self contained entity which is why, after visiting casinos across the country like in Charlestown WVA or Phoenix AZ, I don’t understand why people think it will add much to the surrounding area of wherever it is built. It’s great to have adding needed tax revenues but it’s not the kind of business to anchor an area.

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
20 days ago
Reply to  Bert Hapablap

The last time I went to Vegas, the streets were packed. Bert/Ed, your examples are of one sort of casino that is very dated. There are other activities associated with some of the proposals. Take a look at the Cordish projects. They are entertainment venues first, casino second. They contain Live!, Hard Rock Cafe. Hollywood Fl, Tampa, The one in Maryland is in a mall. But when you can play a couple hands of blackjack and walk to the squirrels game or see a concert… that’s a different kind of casino, and along the lines that Cordish was proposing in… Read more »

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
20 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

In Vegas you multiple casinos and other entertainment options spread across miles, connected by futuristic mass transit facilities. That mass is not proposed here.

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
20 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

At the commerce site no, that’s why i noted it as not a good site… but at Scotts/Downtown it is… with the peripheral developments, new diamond, convention center, etc…

Kay Bee
Kay Bee
21 days ago

I’ll be shocked if a 2022 republican dominated legislature and a republican governor will pass/sign into law any amended bill to build a casino in a red county like Chesterfield or Hanover. Same goes for wealthy Henrico, where you can bet the NIMBY’s will fight it tooth and nail.

SA Chaplin
SA Chaplin
21 days ago

A recent opinion piece by Jim Ukrop made a compelling case against casinos in Richmond: 
“Apart from Las Vegas, casinos tend to attract locals — not out-of-town tourists.
“In terms of local economics, studies regularly show that surrounding property values plummet, nearby businesses see less foot traffic and hotel rooms are frequently unused. 
“Richmond’s casino developers have promised up to $500,000 to local nonprofits over the next five years. While that’s a commendable gesture, these numbers are all based on projections, not realities.”
The full commentary: https://richmond.com/opinion/columnists/jim-ukrop-column-rejecting-casino-can-maintain-rvas-momentum/article_10b6012e-3a1d-5bcd-8466-91b38e64e2d8.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=user-share

Jim Jones
Jim Jones
19 days ago
Reply to  SA Chaplin

If Jim Ukrop and Tim Kane said it, it must be true……..

Chris Terrell
Chris Terrell
21 days ago

There will soon enough be no lack of casinos in the state, and soon enough those casinos will siphon money away from their local populations to lord-knows-where. With no lack of gambling opportunities available now (lottery, Rosies, sports gambling apps), a short drive to Portsmouth or Norfolk for those who feel compelled to scratch their blackjack, poker, roulette and craps itch will satisfy any residual craving. That seems like plenty of opportunity for recreational gamblers around RVA. And will not be missed in RVA. There are jobs, and there are good jobs. Shocked and happy this was voted down. Prefer… Read more »

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
21 days ago
Reply to  Chris Terrell

In the same paragraph, you say you want to keep entertainment money local, and than suggest going to Portsmouth and Norfolk to spend it? So which one is it?

Chris Terrell
Chris Terrell
20 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

To clarify, those that will gamble at casinos regardless can drive a relatively short distance to do so, while most entertainment money stays local.

Deon Hamner
Deon Hamner
20 days ago
Reply to  Chris Terrell

What entertainment money is coming to Richmond? The city and residents deserve better. I wish the Casino One would have passed. It’s an eyesore now over there.

Bert Hapablap
Bert Hapablap
20 days ago
Reply to  Deon Hamner

Do you really think it would have improved the area? I’m for having the casino but I really don’t believe it would improve the area. Look at the multitude of casinos across the country and the communities around them. They are self contained business with gambling, food & entertainment. They really don’t do anything for the surrounding community. Look at Charlestown in WVA or the casinos in Maryland or Deleware. Nothing special is going on outside of them.

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
20 days ago
Reply to  Bert Hapablap

Bert, Cordish Casino in Maryland is in a mall. Not that a mall is special, but it is an economic engine. MGM is blocks away from National Harbor and has shuttle to alexandria, georgetown and the national mall.

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
18 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

Malls are economic engines? One cannot just say something and claim it to be fact. Look at malls right now. They are suffering immensely

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
20 days ago
Reply to  Bert Hapablap

I assure you that Charles Town got a boost in local business. I was working there when the Casino was first rejected, then passed. (It was passed to keep folks from going further north to PA). However, it also has the race track, which changes the dynamic a bit.

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
18 days ago
Reply to  Bert Hapablap

All of the casinos in Maryland and Philadelphia have improved their surrounding areas. I have wittnessed it with my own eyes over the last 10 years. Plenty of data out there to verify this fact as well.

Antonio Vaughan
Antonio Vaughan
20 days ago

One of the counties should jump on the opportunity. Another missed opportunity for the city. But hey, at least we’re a foodie city, right 🤦🏾‍♂️🙄 Chesterfield should either mix this with the plans for the hockey arena on Midlothian turnpike or opt for just the casino instead. It would sit right across the county line from the Rosie’s and still would reach the people that opponents of the casino thought it would victimize. Sad we used supposed victimization to miss out on jobs, development, and infrastructure for an area that desperately needed and will not be developed otherwise. Also, over… Read more »

Deon Hamner
Deon Hamner
20 days ago

Preach… Navy Hill wasn’t good enough now the casino! What is good enough for Richmond because the money is literally walking out the door. Please spare me with the righteous of gambling. Our state runs the Liquor and Lottery here and they do a great job. Richmond especially southside lost out..

karl hott
karl hott
20 days ago

I’m sure the possibility of a huge casino will be welcomed by the residents of Chesterfield, Henrico, or Hanover. It’s easy to criticize the residents of Richmond until it comes knocking on your county door.

Mark Slater
Mark Slater
20 days ago
Reply to  karl hott

Richmond resident here. They’re more than welcome to our other highly lucrative ventures like the Washington Football Team practice field and the UCI bicycle race as well.

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
20 days ago
Reply to  Mark Slater

Why is is always about lucrative money. Cultural activities have been subsidized for years, and still are. Just because the folk festival, Maymont, Museums, and a bicycle race dont make money, or aren’t for you, it still builds community. Really Richmond, as a region needs to do better working together to lift the whole metro area up, share the burden of these regional drawing venues.

Justin W Ranson
Justin W Ranson
14 days ago
Reply to  Mark Slater

The bike race was awesome to see in RVA. World Class racing, right downtown. Of all the things you could have chosen to be critical of, that shouldn’t have been one of them.

Brian Glass
Brian Glass
20 days ago

It would be foolish for any other jurisdiction in the greater Richmond MSA to even consider a casino development. Portsmouth and/or Norfolk have already approved casino gambling. That cuts off players from Tidewater. Danville and/or Bristol will cut off visitors from southwest Virginia, and the existing casino in Maryland eliminates visitors from NOVA. What’s left to draw from? Not much !!!! With regard to a replacement for the Diamond the Richmond Squirrels and VCU will handle that one. The Squirrels attendance almost always is the highest in their league, and the Squirrels are an asset to the city and the… Read more »

Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
20 days ago
Reply to  Brian Glass

Don’t forget Brian that West Virginia, Maryland (outside of MGM National Harbor), Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina also ALL have fairly large and abundant casino (and many are casino resorts) counts too. Once all the other four are built WHY would anyone actually venture to Richmond. Once inside the odds and the casino floors are pretty much all the same.

Last edited 20 days ago by Michael Dodson
Brian Glass
Brian Glass
20 days ago

Brett: You don’t need a casino adjacent to Scotts Addition and The North Side, where there is booming residential and/or commercial growth. More of the same will come to the Diamond District in time.

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
20 days ago
Reply to  Brian Glass

Richmond can continue as you suggest to be a second tier city, or take opportunities to think big and capitalize on all the work so many have put into it.

Gus Dyer
Gus Dyer
20 days ago

Doubtful that the coalition that put the original casino bill through still exists. Representatives from the areas that passed their referenda now have these new corporate constituents that would just as soon not have the competition. You might see P2E try to do something like what they are proposing for Dumfries (The Rose), but I doubt that the Pamunkeys are interested in cannibalizing their own property in Norfolk.

Jo Holmes
Jo Holmes
20 days ago

Build it in one of the depressed counties like Mecklenburg, Brunswick, etc where there are literally no job options other than fast food

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
20 days ago
Reply to  Jo Holmes

Have you been down Jeff Davis lately? It’s quite depressed, and could use the economic growth and jobs…. just saying.

Carol Wolf
Carol Wolf
20 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

Has anyone hazarded a guess as to why the referendum failed, despite a seemingly unlimited public relations campaign that bombarded citizens with reasons to vote in favor of it?

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
19 days ago
Reply to  Carol Wolf

For me it was location. The location was nothing more than a stop on the interstate. Creating a genuine Live, Work, Play district with baseball/sport and casino/entertainment venue as proposed, with a vibrant residential/office community interwoven into the fabric of the city would be the ideal. When it comes down to it, I dont care how people spend their entertainment tourism money (restaurant, baseball, soccer, brewery, etc)…but i would prefer it to happen in the city limits.

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
19 days ago

I’m kind of surprised no one has brought up Petersburg. To me that would be another logical location if it is not to be in the City of Richmond.

Bunny Lawson
Bunny Lawson
19 days ago

It’s immoral to build an industry in this town on the backs of poor people or on the character flaws of those ill-equipped to execute self-control while riding on a high of continual dopamine hits. No regulations. Nothing to interrupt the behavior before pockets are completely empty. Seriously, why can’t Rosie’s close from 2-6A? Bars do.
Is this the extent of Mayor Stoney’s vision for this town?

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
19 days ago
Reply to  Bunny Lawson

Rosie’s closes from 4 am to 8 am except weekends, when they close from 6 am to 8 am.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
19 days ago

I bet if they offered to build it where the infamous hotel is in Petersburg they would roll out the red carpet.

That site has great visibility and access to the highway, and there is likely space adjacent to the site that could be bought as well.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
18 days ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

Well, i don’t know if you guys follow what Joe Morrisey has been up to, I’ll put it at even odds that a scaled down casino goes to Petersburg.(and a dead cert that a Petersburg Casino PAC has alread\y had paperwork filed) None of the people that stopped it care what happens in petersburg, and P town hasn’t had anything else going on that amounted to a game changer. Tear down that old Ramada, gove UONE the entire block and why not give them (let them buy up) everything to Bollingbrook Street along 95. I’ll take every argument against casinos,… Read more »

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
18 days ago
Reply to  Ed Christina
Ed Christina
Ed Christina
18 days ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

Looks like Wagner road is being metioned

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
18 days ago

It’s comical to read all of the comments that say something along the lines of “casinos want you to spend your money there” and “casinos will siphon money” and “casinos cater to local folks”. While I agree with these comments, the comical element stems from the fact that this statement can be applied to almost all businesses in operation. All businesses want your money. Businesses like Amazon, who we give tax credits to, siphon money from our community. There are many reasons to not want a casino, most of them stem from moral convictions. I wish we’d apply morality to… Read more »

Last edited 18 days ago by Ashley Smith
Brandon Blair
Brandon Blair
18 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Couldn’t have said it better myself