Richmond Times-Dispatch Says City Should Fold on Casino

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Posted on: March 20, 2023, 04:47h. 

Last updated on: March 20, 2023, 04:56h.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial board believes the Virginia capital city would be smart to fold on its state-allocated casino opportunity and allow nearby Petersburg to instead mull a gaming development.

Richmond Times-Dispatch casino Virginia
The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial board believes a casino in the city would hurt business elsewhere, including in the capital’s Arts District. The newspaper says Richmond city leaders should rethink hosting another local gaming referendum. (Image: Virginia Main Street)

Richmond was one of five cities that qualified to consider a commercial brick-and-mortar casino through state legislation passed in 2020 and signed by then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The gaming bill was designed to provide those five deprived cities with an economic jumpstart by way of a resort.

Richmond voters narrowly rejected a proposed casino called One Casino + Resort. The $565 million plan was pitched by Urban One and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E). Fewer than 2,000 votes swayed the outcome against the undertaking.

Nothing in the 2020 gaming law prevents the five cities from holding more than one local referendum on the matter. Richmond was an outlier among the chosen communities, as voters in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville all voted in favor of their proposed casino.

‘Economic Displacement’

The editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch says Richmond’s city government shouldn’t conduct a second gaming referendum in November. The media outlet’s leaders say legislative efforts to qualify Petersburg as a sixth casino host location should be given a clearer path by Richmond stepping aside.

The editorial board of Virginia’s second-largest daily newspaper also isn’t won over about what sort of economic benefits a casino might provide. Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC) estimated that a casino in Richmond would generate gross gaming revenue of nearly $300 million a year.

The tax benefit on such revenue would be roughly $80 million annually, with an estimated $18 million reserved for the Richmond city government. JLARC also concluded that only 4% to 10% of the casino’s revenue would come from out-of-town visitors.

People don’t suddenly decide to spend twice as much money on fun and games when a new casino comes to town. If you drop $200 for dinner and poker on a Saturday night, that’s money you’re not spending someplace else — say, the movies, a baseball game, or a concert,” the op-ed read.

“All that new gaming revenue would likely come at the expense of existing restaurants and nearby entertainment-minded businesses. It’s called economic displacement, or the substitution effect,” the opinion continued.

Richmond Cleared for Revote

The Virginia General Assembly adjourned at the end of February by passing a so-called “skinny” budget that provided critical funding for the state. Ongoing budget talks for less critical spending resumed last week, with House and Senate-appointed negotiators handling those discussions.

During the General Assembly’s 2023 session, unsuccessful efforts were made by state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond, Petersburg) to prevent Richmond from holding another gaming referendum during the November 2023 election.

Morrissey sought to include a provision into the budget that blocked Richmond from re-asking voters about a casino until at least 2024. Morrissey has also been championing the effort to allow Petersburg to consider a casino instead of Richmond.

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

Urban One says it remains interested in Richmond, but its development partner and would-be gaming operator has changed from Peninsula Pacific Entertainment to Churchill Downs, Inc. after the latter acquired P2E last year for nearly $2.5 billion.

Unless the budget negotiators decide to tack on a provision blocking Richmond from holding a second casino referendum — something that seems unlikely at this juncture — only the Richmond City Council would have the legal power to conduct a gaming vote in November.

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