Richmond Casino Rejection Latest Blow to Black Community, Mayor Claims

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Richmond Casino Rejection Latest Blow to Black Community, Mayor Claims

A $565 million Richmond casino referendum was closely rejected during the November 2021 election, with more affluent neighborhoods being cited for the project’s dismissal. The mayor of the Virginia capital says the outcome was yet another disappointment to minority residents.

Richmond casino Levar Stoney Urban One
Richmond casino Levar Stoney Urban One
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney speaks at City Hall last year. Stoney says the recent city vote rejecting a proposed casino might hint that the city has a ways to go to better implement minority participation in economic initiatives. (Image: Levar Stoney)

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) spoke recently with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where he expressed his opinion that a substantial element of the city’s population doesn’t feel welcomed and included when it comes to economic development.

“There are black and brown people who grew up in Richmond who say, ‘I love Richmond, but sometimes I don’t think Richmond loves me back.’ That’s devastating to hear,” Stoney stated.

The mayor believes the casino vote was another setback for minorities. Urban One, a Black-owned media conglomerate that involved roughly 50 investors who identify as non-white, was behind the $565 million ONE Casino + Resort pitch.

Richmond was one of five cities that qualified to consider a single casino development under legislation signed into law last year by Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The four other cities all held successful local referendums approving their casino developments.

‘They’ Against ‘Us’

Stoney reveals that many of the people he speaks to in town argue that their voices aren’t heard. And, he claimed, the casino vote was an exemplary reminder that whites continue to maintain power and control of the Virginia capital.

They said, ‘I’ve been living here my whole life. Why don’t they let us have anything that we want?’” Stoney added. When pressed to clarify who “they” are, the mayor answered “the naysayers and detractors.”

“Those who want Richmond to be what it was in the 1960s or 1980s,” Stoney clarified.

Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins says Richmond has a “dismal track record when it comes to economic inclusion for African Americans.” Voters rejected his casino 51-49 percent last November. But exit polling in districts north of the James River voted around 2-1 against the casino.

ONE Casino + Resort was targeting land south of the city next to the Philip Morris plant along I-95.

Richmond City Councilmember Reva Trammell is leading an effort to hold a second referendum regarding the casino. Trammell says her constituents in the 8th District — which is near where Urban One sought to build its casino resort — want the development and its associated jobs.

“I’m doing what my people have asked me to do,” Trammell said of her decision to introduce a resolution to the council to initiate a second vote.

Next Steps TBD

Stoney says he hasn’t formed an opinion on whether he will support Trammell’s effort to re-ask voters about the casino. But he understands why the councilwoman and others want another shot at approving the resort.

When we have 1,500 good paying jobs on the line, that’s a lifeline for families,” Stoney said. “No one should be surprised that some people want another shot.”

Virginia state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) was surprised, and he’s against another referendum. Morrissey says such an effort goes against the democratic process. He instead favors passing legislation on the state level to allow nearby Petersburg to ask its own residents whether they want to welcome the casino.

Morrissey believes a casino in Petersburg south of Richmond would benefit the region as a whole.

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