Post written by Tamara D. Fair
It’s no dice for Richmond’s Urban One casino project. The casino, which allegedly would have been the country’s first black-owned establishment of its kind, was vetoed during a referendum vote. Although the difference in votes was minute, the 51% who voted “no” against the ONE Casino + Resort have effectively ceased any chance for the project to push through. While this has caused celebration for some who were against the idea of a resort-casino going off I-95, 8th District City Council member Reva Trammell says she and her residents are crushed.
A promising start for Urban One
Talks of a resort-style casino coming to River City first started gaining more traction in February of this year after it was shared that four companies had joined the race to lead the endeavor. In the same month, Urban One, a black-owned media company with stakes in television networks and radio stations in Richmond, announced that they had pitched a $517 million proposal. Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins said in a press conference that, if chosen, the Urban One project would include a massive gaming facility, 150 luxury hotel rooms, a 3,000 capacity movie theater, broadcast studios, a dozen food concepts, 20,000 feet of event space, and 50 acres of recreational green space.
At the time, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said the pitching process would be a competitive one. However, just a few months later, in May, it seemed the cards were in favor of Urban One. After some deliberation, Richmond’s Resort Casino Evaluation Panel officially recommended that ONE Casino + Resort be the city’s official casino gaming operator. The panel’s suggestion was based on the project’s feasibility, sustainability, location, revenue, community impact, and economic development. This statement meant that Urban One had beaten out its other competitors, the last of which was the Cordish Companies. The final step to formalize Urban One’s victory was to make it through the aforementioned City Council referendum with enough votes. Unfortunately, the votes were not in the project’s favor.
What ONE could have meant for Richmond
For those who had hoped for the ONE Casino + Resort to push through, the project signified a new chance at economic revival. It would have been situated in the city’s more impoverished area, which is also where most of the “yes” voters reside. The casino resort was anticipated to produce 1,300 jobs along with a $25.5 million upfront payment to the Richmond government. Considering that there has been a 22% drop in SME ownership nationwide, more employment opportunities are critical. The upfront payment could have also gone to assistance funds that minority businesses could have received to stay afloat.
Virginia, which has steadily been expanding its retail casino projects was hoping to see Richmond as another hub that would attract tourists. Since Urban One claimed that their casino would have included 110 table games, 2,000 slot machines, and a poker room, this would have satisfied nationwide demand for legal gambling opportunities.
One such casino opportunity that could have brought in tourists and produced more jobs was the casino’s poker room. Since the United States has very strict laws, there are only a few states with legal online poker, which means that outside of these states casinos are one of the few places to play the game. The casino would also have been another argument to why Virginia should one day allow online poker. This exclusivity has proved very profitable for the places that do allow the online version of the game. One notable example is Michigan, which only recently joined the allowed states in 2021. Since then, though, the state has reported record poker revenues. In August alone, the Michigan Gaming Control Board noted over $97 million in revenue, with over $500,000 in operators’ tax.
This same growth was what residents in Richmond’s South Side had hoped to emulate themselves with Urban One. With the casino project officially scrapped, residents who had hoped to get lucky with the ONE Casino are left wondering what’s next.