Virginia Residents Compile Casino Wish List

More than 3,000 people participated in a survey regarding a potential casino project in Richmond, Virginia. Survey results will help craft a request for proposals. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, the Colonial Downs Group and Urban One all have expressed interest.

A subcommittee of the city council in Richmond, Virginia recently received results of a survey regarding a potential casino project. The answers to the survey will be used in creating a request for proposals for a potential resort casino.

Richmond is one of five cities allowed by law to have a casino pending local voter approval. In November, voters in four of the cities–Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth–overwhelmingly approved casino plans. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe has proposed a $350 million casino resort in Richmond; Colonial Downs Group, operator of Colonial Downs Racetrack and Rosie’s Gaming Emporium as well as Maryland-based Urban One also have expressed interest.

More than 3,000 people responded to the survey, which asked them to rank what features they want from a casino. Most respondents ranked jobs with a living wage, tax revenue for schools, housing investment and public infrastructure improvements as the top priorities from a casino. Sustainable building design, green space, restaurants and stores, new pedestrian infrastructure and easy access to public transit also were listed as necessities for the project.

The city’s request for proposals will be issued later this month and be due in February. Then a partner and site for a casino will be selected by this summer, officials said. A referendum held in November 2021will determine if voters want the project.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said, “Community engagement has to be at the center of what we do when it comes to economic development. We want economic development which to me is economic justice for all of our residents.”

But not all Richmond residents want a casino in the city—especially not in or near residential areas. Residents in the suburbs of Bellemeade and Oak Grove are concerned about the possibility of more crime, traffic congestion and gentrification that could displace longtime black residents. Louise McQueen and Barbara Starkey-Goode, officers of the respective neighborhood associations, said they felt the survey only asked respondents to rank or comment on potential economic benefits—not general attitudes about a casino opening in the city.

Starkey-Goode said, “I’m sure a lot of them have no idea where they’re proposing to build it. When you don’t have all the facts, you might think it’s a good idea to have a casino open up.” The women said commercial areas with fewer residential properties would be more appropriate for the project.

Stoney said location is a factor city officials will consider when evaluating project proposals. “There are a number of prospects out there. There’s a lot of locations being thrown around. We’re going to do what’s right by the city,” he said.

Survey respondents also listed involvement of minority-owned businesses as a priority, after living wage, tax revenue and economic mobility in the rankings for potential economic benefits. The Black-owned media company Urban One owns a 7 percent share in the MGM National Harbor casino resort in Maryland and operates three radio stations targeted to Black audiences in Richmond and in more than a dozen other markets around the nation.

Chief Executive Officer Alfred Liggins said Urban One lobbied for more minority inclusion in the state casino bill. It promoted the city’s survey on its platforms and urged city residents to consider the casino project as an opportunity for Black economic empowerment. “We as a company consider ourselves to be in the ‘black people’ business, not just media. When we see economic development opportunities where our audience will be the primary participant in them, we try to seek participation in that.” Liggins said the company is looking at properties and gaming company operators to partner with for a bid.

Colonial Downs Group spokesman Mark Hubbard said the company is interested in expanding its operations in Richmond. “I think once we see RFP we’ll have a better sense of what the city is considering. We’re looking at all our options,” he said.

Besides approving casino gambling, the Virginia legislature also approved legalizing sports betting, which could be available via online and mobile apps next month. The Virginia Lottery accepted sports betting license applications October 15 through October 31. With a 90-day review period, the first sports betting operators could be live in mid-January.

According to the Lottery, 25 operators submitted applications. A Lottery spokesman said up to half are likely to be licensed; the law allows four to 12 licenses, with five reserved for Virginia casino operators. Professional franchises also could receive sports betting licenses, as well as NASCAR which recently signed a multi-year deal to be the official online sportsbook for Virginia’s two tracks.