Urban One Remains Focused on Owning Casino Following Richmond Defeat

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Urban One is unwavering in its aspirations to own a casino resort.

Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins speaks about the Richmond Grand Resort & Casino on Aug. 31, 2023, in Richmond. Voters in the Virginia capital rejected the casino resort pitch, but Liggins says his company remains interested in building and owning a casino. (Image: AP)

Urban One, a media conglomerate based in Maryland, owns and runs radio stations and television networks that primarily cater to the Black community. The firm hoped to build a more than a half-billion integrated resort casino in Richmond. However, voters in the Virginia capital twice rejected a citywide ballot referendum needed to authorize the project.

Richmonders narrowly rejected Urban One’s 2021 casino pitch by a 51%-49% vote. The electorate again rejected a similar proposal from Urban One last month but at a more decisive rate of 62%-38%.

Urban One, publicly traded on the Nasdaq, released its third-quarter earnings report this week and met with shareholders and analysts on a call. During the conversation, Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins revealed that the media company wants to own a casino.

In March, Urban One divested its stake in MGM National Harbor, the richest casino in Maryland, just outside the nation’s capital in Oxon Hill, for $145.5 million. Urban One, in 2016, was welcomed by MGM Resorts to make a passive investment in the integrated resort to diversify the project’s ownership structure.

Future Intent

Liggins on Thursday affirmed the company’s intention to pursue another casino stake.

Yes, absolutely. It’s a great business,” Liggins said. “We made a lot of money on our MGM investment. We made like 3.5 times our investment.”

Liggins recognizes that the US economy is quite different today than when the $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor casino was built and opened in December 2016.

“There is risk. You can overbuild, and interest rates are higher now,” Higgins said.

Richmond Rejections

Formerly known as Radio One, Richmond city officials chose the Silver Spring firm in 2021 as the Virginia capital’s preferred gaming partner. Despite lacking any experience developing and/or operating a casino, the Richmond Resort Casino Evaluation Panel picked Urban One over competing bids from Bally’s Corporation and The Cordish Companies, the latter of which operates Live!-branded casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Richmond’s casino evaluation panel, handpicked by the City Council, sought to provide social equity by selecting Urban One. The proposal, known as ONE Casino + Resort in 2021, was more than half of a billion-dollar undertaking made through a partnership with casino operator Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E). The casino proposal involved more than 50 individual investors, many of whom identified as minorities.

Unfazed by the 2021 will of Richmond’s residents, city officials and Mayor Levar Stoney (D) initiated a second gaming referendum, with Urban One remaining its development partner. For the 2023 push, Urban One was partnered with Churchill Downs after it acquired P2E.

The change didn’t matter, as capital residents rejected the casino again. The vote was divided among social demographics, with wealthier areas more opposed to the project than more blue-collar neighborhoods.

Maryland Opportunity?

Urban One developing a casino in its home state of Maryland, where the company is best known, would be ideal. Maryland’s gaming law restricts the number of casinos to six. However, there are pathways to expand the industry, as state voters have a recent track record of backing gaming expansion questions.

During the November 2008 election, Marylanders passed a statewide ballot referendum that amended the state constitution to allow slot machines at five venues in the counties of Anne Arundel, Cecil, and Worcester, plus a city casino in Baltimore and another on state property in Rocky Gay State Park.

Table games were authorized through a subsequent referendum that passed in 2012. That same 2012 referendum question included the authorization of a sixth casino, with that license ultimately being awarded to MGM.

In 2020, voters further expanded gaming with retail and online sports betting.

There are now efforts to legalize iGaming through yet another gaming referendum. Could Urban One convince state lawmakers to include a provision on the internet gambling question to allow a seventh casino in the Old Line State? That’s purely speculation at this time, but Marylanders seem willing to continue growing the state’s legal gambling options.

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