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Richmond judge temporarily suspends order that would put casino project on November ballot

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Posted at 5:54 PM, Aug 15, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- A judge in Richmond temporarily suspended an order he issued that put a casino/resort project before Richmond voters this November for a second time.

Judge W. Reilly Marchant suspended the order for eight days, asking attorneys for the city and the non-profit challenging the order to provide case law and evidence for their arguments.

The challenge was brought by the non-profit Lodge No. 1 of the Good Lions, which operates a charitable bingo game twice a week in south Richmond. The group said casino gaming in Richmond would dramatically impact their charitable gaming operations, which took in nearly $1 million a few years ago, attorneys said.

The attorney representing the Good Lions at Tuesday's hearing, Chris Robertson, argued that Richmond officials violated a section of the Virginia Constitution requiring competitive bidding for local government projects.

Richmond awarded the project to the partnership between Urban One and Churchill Downs for the latest iteration of the casino/resort project. In 2021, several different proposals were considered until ultimately Urban One was selected ahead of the failed referendum.

Robertson said the failure to hold a bidding process this time was improper, and asked Judge Marchant to suspend his order, with the ultimate goal of letting the court determine if Richmond went about the process correctly or not.

Wirt Marks, who represented Richmond in Tuesday's hearing, said the city officials and city council followed all the statutes laid out in the2020 state law authorizing casinos in five cities in Virginia, an application that was approved by both the Virginia Lottery Board and Judge Marchant.

Marks argued the Good Lions complaint seems to be against the state law itself, and questioned the timing of challenging the order now, which he said brings great uncertainty about a second Richmond casino vote and could "derail it."

City officials and developers were discussing their plans publicly for months before now, and Marks said filing a complaint like this at the last minute erodes trust in the process.

Judge Marchant ultimately decided to suspend the order until August 23 so that both legal teams could send him case law and analysis on why it backs their position on standing and then render his decision. The court must determine if Good Lions have the grounds to challenge this process in the first place before determining if the process of obtaining the order was flawed.

If he decides the group does not have standing to challenge the order, Judge Marchant said it ends there, and the vote continues on as planned. If Judge Marchant decides they do have standing, another hearing would be likely as to whether or not the challenge is successful.

A written ruling will be issued on the standing question on August 23, Judge Marchant said.

Both legal teams declined to comment following the hearing. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney was also tight-lipped when asked to comment by CBS 6 at a separate event, but said he believes the challenge will not impact a second referendum vote.

"We followed the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia and followed Virginia code," Stoney said. "No, I do not believe the existence of a casino/resort would stifle charitable gaming. I think there are four licenses currently in use throughout the Commonwealth, in four different cities, and I don’t think you’re seeing that in any of those cities.”

Richmond voters narrowly rejected the first casino referendum in 2021. The order allowing for a second vote was issued late July.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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