Richmond City Council votes to prosecute Urban ONE Casino for a second time

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – A majority of the Richmond City Council voted Monday night to pass a resolution and two ordinances related to the revitalization of the Urban ONE casino project. Councilwoman Reva Trammell has spearheaded efforts to bring the referendum back to the vote this November after the proposal failed in 2021.

Trammell’s agenda items were supported by most of her peers, Urban ONE CEO Alfred Liggins and members of the community. However, Richmonders from around the city brought strong opposition to the project, citing problems with casino gambling and scorning the original vote, which was ignored by the city council. The only councilor who voted against the casino-related items was Katherine Jordan, who also stood alone in opposition last year.

The three voices contain Resolution 2022-R003 Select RVA Entertainment Holdings, LLC as Richmond’s preferred casino gaming operation. This resolution means that the casino will operate at 2001 Walmsley Boulevard and 4700 Trenton Avenue. It also advances the process of setting up an electoral referendum.

The City Council voted to approve Ordinance 2022-015, which implements a community support agreement between the city and the parties involved in the casino, and Ordinance 2022-014, which implements the agreement for the casino hosting community.

Ahead of the meeting, the councillors, who support efforts to get a second casino referendum put to the vote, sent out a press release stating that along with the development they would propose a two-cent reduction in the tax rate for residents. They also stated that the casino proceeds would be used for projects to improve school and city funds.

“I strongly believe that the proceeds from the resort casino project can be targeted to provide property tax breaks to residents across the city,” Councilor Ann-Frances Lambert said in the press release.

In the early days of Trammell’s effort to revive the casino referendum, it was unclear where Urban ONE stood on second chances. The company did not respond to 8News’ request for comment during recent coverage.

That all changed Monday night when Urban ONE CEO Alfred Liggins joined public commentators in support of the project. He used his allotted two minutes to explain that the company has an established track record of bringing opportunity and capital to the Richmond community. Liggins said he believes in the democratic process and that it allows for multiple choices and second chances.

The CEO explained that after the first vote on the referendum, many Richmond residents were confused as to where the money from the casino would actually go. He said this is getting around, Urban ONE needs to be more specific and give people a reason to vote for the casino.

The 2021 casino referendum was narrowly defeated, and now opponents of the plan are urging Richmond City Council to let that vote stand.

A resident of Richmond’s 6th Circuit said in a public comment that the council’s efforts were anti-democratic and a form of voter suppression. They said it’s a common tactic used by casinos to stay behind public decisions made against them.

A spokesman for the 4th Circuit called the council’s efforts a “disappointment” and said they should be ashamed of what they are doing. Another commenter said the city’s vote against the project was the result of hard work by the opposition and not gift certificates or free petrol tanks.

Other residents opposed to the project shared personal stories or data collected on gambling addiction. One speaker raised the possibility that those suffering from gambling addiction could be in need of thousands in financial assistance each year. Another said the city already does not provide adequate addictive drugs, including for gambling addiction.

Councilwoman Jordan continued to be the only council member opposed to the proposal. Her district voted against the referendum in 2021 and has faced stiff opposition to casino plans in general.

“I take no pleasure in not joining the mood tonight,” Jordan said.

She said she likes Liggins and Urban ONE, but her reservations about a casino project haven’t changed. The councilwoman said she hoped her concerns about the project were unfounded.

She also said that if the referendum had passed, she would not have backed efforts to put the issue back to the vote.

Many other City Council members defended their election, with Andreas Addison saying the re-vote was not an act of voter suppression and stating that Virginians always vote in the elections every November.

Council members cited economic development as the reason for their enthusiastic support of the casino and resort. They spent their comment periods talking about the number of jobs it could bring and the amount of revenue the city could see. They insisted that the city would not pay for this project, Urban ONE would fund it and they would only receive proceeds.

They touched on what they felt could prevent the project from going through, with both Mike Jones and Stephanie Lynch touching on the public’s perception of casino operations.

Lynch said she thinks the council’s job is to help residents decode the underlying assumptions and “moral value assignments” they hold about casino gambling in particular. She spoke about creating a healing moment for people who find casino gambling more negative than other forms of gambling.

Jones said Richmond already has Rosie’s Gaming Emporium and gray market machines.

Another point made by members was that the areas closest to the proposed casino were most in favor. Trammell said the Southside and the rest of the city would benefit if the referendum passed.

Voters from the 8th Ward gave their support during public comment and by reaching out to Trammell Monday night.

Clovia Lawrence and Charles Willis, other familiar faces in the casino proposal push, spoke to the city council Monday night to lobby for the development project.

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