Richmond casino project could be back on November ballot after judge sides with city

Urban One Casino.jpg
Posted at 5:48 PM, Aug 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-23 18:15:40-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Richmond Circuit Court judge has a rejected a legal challenge seeking to block the city from holding a second referendum this November for a casino project on the city's south side.

“I am pleased to see Judge Marchant rule in favor of the City of Richmond," said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney in reaction to the ruling. "If approved this November, the proposed destination resort and casino will provide 1,300 good-paying jobs and an estimated $30 million in annual revenue to tackle our community’s greatest needs. On top of adding to Richmond’s record development and growth, this project will change the economic trajectory of Southside for years to come.”

Last month, the challenge was filed by a non-profit on the City's south side, Lodge No. 1 of the Good Lions, that holds biweekly bingo games and said their ability to raise money would disappear or be severely harmed if a casino were allowed to be built. They also argued the city did not follow state law in awarding the contract without a bidding process.

Attorneys for the city argued they followed the process as required under state law and added the Lions did not have the standing needed to challenge the lawsuit.

Urban One Casino.jpg
Urban One’s proposed casino and resort includes a 250-room hotel.

The judge ruled in favor of the city for two reasons. He said this judicial proceeding of approving a ballot referendum was not the place for legal intervention and even if it was, the Lions did not have the standing to bring the challenge as they couldn't fairly trace their potential revenue losses to the actions of the city -- adding it is more likely the state law allowing casinos that is responsible.

"I think it's good news for the citizens of Richmond. For those that want to see more jobs in the city, they want to see entertainment in the city, they want to see historic economic development in a part of the city that hasn't seen it in decades -- I think it's good news," said Ninth District Councilmember and Council President Mike Jones on the ruling and spoke to the people needed to change their votes. "For those 2,000,-3,000 that may have voted no last time, but didn't have as much information, we know the site now. We know the funding impact that's taken place in Danville, in Bristol, in Portsmouth. So, we know the impact that it can make. So, hopefully it will sway that center."

"We're very disappointed that the Court chose not to hear this case on the merits," said Chap Petersen, an attorney for the Lions. "This is about a 'no bid' contract which was given without any public input. If my clients don't have standing to challenge it, then nobody does -- which means the Constitution can be ignored."

Petersen said they could appeal the decision to the Virginia Court of Appeals, but his clients had not made a decision about that as of Wednesday afternoon.

Without that, seemingly the only other roadblock to the casino question appearing on November's ballot would be language in the state budget blocking it from happening -- which happened once before.

Budget negotiators said Wednesday morning that they would likely have a deal reached by the end of the week, but did not say what the details of the deal could be.

"The biggest thing is, of course, the budget language and an appeal. Those things are realistic, they can happen," said Jones in response to the possible remaining roadblocks. "I'm hoping that the Governor does the right thing, hoping the General Assembly keeps their words and just follows suit to where we are at this point, because I think it would be a heartbreak for the citizens of Richmond who want to see this happen to at least just vote on it."

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