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Virginia senator seeking to block Richmond casino once again as city plans second referendum


Virginia State Sen. Joe Morrissey is once again seeking to stop Richmond City Hall from moving forward with a second referendum for a casino. “I will do what I can to make sure there’s budget language that prohibits Richmond from getting a casino,” said Morrissey, D-16th District, as per local media reports. His pledge comes as the city voted on Monday night to move the ONE Casino + Resort project back to the ballot this fall.

The measure to approve the casino initially failed in 2021 with 51% of Richmond voters saying “no” to the proposal. “I’m disappointed that Richmond keeps going back, trying to get a referendum. It reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day. We hear it over and over again,” said Sen. Morrissey as per NBC12. Richmond tried to have a second referendum last year, but the senator, who is pushing for a casino to be built in Petersburg, was successful in blocking that effort.

Sen. Morrissey, who blocked Richmond’s casino vote in 2022 through a state budget amendment, is determined to renew the fight this year and to give Petersburg a chance at holding its own referendum. Richmond’s casino project still boasts the same features from 2021: a $562.5 million property that city officials expect to generate $29.7 million yearly. The site would also house a 250-room hotel, a 3,000-seat entertainment venue and restaurants.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney

“I feel really good. I feel really optimistic about what November may hold,” said Mayor Levar Stoney, City of Richmond. However, the Virginia Lottery and Richmond Circuit Court also still have to approve the referendum before it’s put on the November ballot. Campaigning is already underway, with new messaging for the casino emphasizing it as a resort and not “just” a casino, keeping gambling references to a minimum.

One of Monday’s ordinances selected RVA Entertainment Holdings — a collaboration between media and entertainment company Urban ONE and casino and horse track operator Churchill Downsas the city’s casino gaming operator. The company, which aims to open the casino by May 2026, would pay Richmond $25.5 million if a referendum is successful, reports VPM.

Rendering for the proposed Richmond casino

Despite Richmond’s moves, competition with Petersburg remains an unresolved question. It is yet unclear whether this year’s update to the state budget will have another provision like the one from 2022, which specifically prevented a do-over of a failed casino referendum – Richmond was the only locality the provision applied to. 

Petersburg has also been unsuccessful in moving forward with its own casino plans thus far. While Morrissey last year convinced the Virginia Joint Legislature Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to complete a feasibility study on allowing a casino in Petersburg, the state Senate finance committee killed bills in 2022 and 2023 that would have allowed the city to hold its own referendum.

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