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A look at the likely benefits, potential pitfalls of a Richmond casino

Location will be key to casino's success; could attract people from across Virginia, neighboring states
Posted at 8:28 PM, May 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-24 01:03:36-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- For the past several days, Richmonders have been butting heads over the prospect of a casino on the city's Southside.

Now that city leaders decided to move forward with Urban One's proposal, the company hopes to build a $600 million gaming and entertainment destination on Walmsley Boulevard.

Developers said it would bring tons of jobs to the area, and city leaders touted it as an economic catalyst to breathe new life into the Southside.

ONE Casino + Resort Site Map
ONE Casino + Resort Site Map

TIMELINE: What's next for Richmond's proposed One Casino

"It's bringing jobs to an area that has not seen those kind of good paying jobs," said Laura Lafayette, CEO of the Richmond Realtors Association. "This creates an opportunity to have economic development further down the corridor."

While the organization as a whole has not officially taken a position on the plan, Lafayette said the positives far outweigh the negatives.

She compared the potential economic boost to the redevelopment of Manchester seen over the past few years.

"I would expect it to attract a number of restaurants, perhaps some retail, that you typically see in tourist areas," she said.

Lafayette also believes the project could lead to more people calling South Richmond home.

"We would love to see folks have jobs and enable them to purchase homes, if that's what they want to do," Lafayette said. "And we would love for some of those tourists and visitors to eventually join us as residents."

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Dr. Robert McNab, an economics professor at Old Dominion University, recognized the benefits of a casino in the River City, but also pointed out some concerns.

"People tend to overpromise with casinos, because they look at Las Vegas," McNab said. "And they pick out the success stories and say it will look like that. They tend not to look at the failures."

For example, McNab said research shows that most spending in casinos comes from people in the local area.

"If you have people who used to be spending on movie theaters, bars, and restaurants and are just shifting that spending to casinos, the economic impact is very small," he explained.

Another issue McNab brought up is, similar to lottery sales, gambling typically attracts people with lower incomes.

"We don't want to essentially be taxing the poor at a higher rate for entertainment," he said.

ONE Casino + Resort Master Plan
ONE Casino + Resort Master Plan

McNab added that governments relying on casinos as a source of revenue is a roll of the dice.

"Much like a person can get addicted to gambling revenues, a government can get addicted to gambling revenues," he said. "When the economy's doing well, casinos make a lot of money, so governments may have a tendency to take money from elsewhere or lower taxes."

He went on to say that's an unreliable plan.

"When times get rough, we see, much like tourism and hospitality during the COVID-19 pandemic, casino and other forms of gambling revenues can take a sharp downturn," he said.

McNab said location is key to a casino's success, and he believes Richmond's central position can attract people from across the Commonwealth and other states.

Richmond voters will have the final say on the casino with a referendum on the November ballot.