The Richmond City Council voted eight to one to again pursue bringing an Urban One casino to the city, despite voters rejecting the casino in a November referendum. Pro-casino spending hit about $2 million, but local grassroots activism and $200,000 defeated the proposal. Shortly afterwards a survey about the casino proposal began circulating, and Councilmember Reva Trammell began collecting signatures for a petition to hold another referendum, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Trammell’s district includes the proposed site of the casino. Before the Monday evening vote, she said that misinformation and difficulty voting were part of the reason the referendum failed.
“So many people have said to me that they did not know that this was not going to cost the taxpayer. They thought that we were going to have to pay for this,” Trammell said. “They didn’t realize that the casino, it was on the back of the ballot. And they were calling me, standing in line, voting, saying, ‘I don’t see it.’ I said, ‘Turn it on the back, you’ve got to turn it on the back.'”
She said, “So, I want to just clear things up that this would definitely bring in so many jobs for so many people, and it’s not an eighth district thing, it’s not a Southside thing. It’s something that’s going to benefit all of our city.”
Councilmember Andreas Addison said, “This is an interesting thing, when people are saying that this is anti-democratic or not part of the process, because in the process of policy and decision making, we routinely try things multiple times.”
Addison emphasized that the casino would bring in local investment and revenue without impacting the city budget.
“At the end of the day, my district didn’t support the project. I get that. I have emails of people reminding me that. But I also have a fact where they also want to make sure that I don’t raise their taxes, that I get things done for them, that I pave their streets and fix their sidewalks, fund their schools,” he said.
Councilmember Katherine Jordan was the only no vote.
“It gives me no pleasure not to go along with the sentiment tonight, and I realize I’m the outlier,” she said. “I just have my personal reservations, and I’m sorry that position hasn’t changed. But I also would say if it had passed, and the opposition was pushing for a revote, I wouldn’t have supported that either.”
Before the meeting, city officials said in a press release that revenue from the casino could be used to offset a two-cent property tax cut proposal. However, the cut is contingent on voters approving the referendum, according to The Times.
“Our residents deserve tax relief and access to good jobs,” Mayor Levar Stoney said in the release. “They want public infrastructure improvements and more funding for school capital projects. This project provides a unique opportunity to do just that. I know City Council is committed to creating opportunities that uplift and support ALL Richmond residents, and I’m hopeful tonight’s vote affirms this shared commitment.”
Grassroots organization Richmond for All (RFA) opposed the casino proposal. In a Tuesday press release, RFA Director of Operations Quinton Robbins blasted the council’s decision.
“The eight council members and the mayor who support a ‘do over’ for the failed casino are sending a clear message to Richmonders: when big business can’t get what they want through democratic means, they will ignore the will of the voters,” Robbins said.
“As proposed, the mayor’s tax cut would lead to a net loss in revenue for the city—a cut of $56,000,000 over 10 years—and further drain resources that can be used to provide public services. The mayor’s attempt to sweeten the deal is not only manipulative, it is also misguided. One of the most oft-repeated and rigorously debunked arguments for a casino is that it will generate tax revenue for the city,” Robbins said in the RFA release.
Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) pushed for the casino under the first referendum. Now, he’s opposing the casino, and wants to give the license meant for Richmond to Petersburg.
“I was very disappointed in the eight city council members voting for a redo who just simply fail to understand the democratic process. In our society we believe that elections have consequences. The people spoke. I didn’t agree with them,” Morrissey said. “We respect and honor the ballot-box vote.”
“My question to each of those eight would be: what if you ran in an election and you won by a very small margin, two votes, twenty votes, 1,500 votes. Would you feel it appropriate if your opponent immediately filed a recall and said, ‘I want a redo?’ That’s not what we do in Virginia, or America.”
Morrissey criticized Stoney for the two-cent tax cut offer. He said, “He is so desperate for a victory of any kind that he would put the city’s financial well being at state in order to get a redo so he can have a huge casino built in south Richmond. I continue to be amazed at the amateurs that run this city.”
He said, “I can assure he and the other councilmembers that the Virginia General Assembly is not sitting around waiting for them to make decisions. I will move forward on what I think is best for the Commonwealth.”
Morrissey has introduced Senate Bill 203, which would add Petersburg as a city eligible to host a casino if voters in that city approve a referendum. SB 203 would also ban cities from holding another casino referendum for five years if the first referendum fails.
“Otherwise, like I said, you would have a situation where they just keep doing it until you ultimately win due to fatigue on the other side,” Morrissey said.
The Virginia Star’s Publisher John Fredericks, a friend of Morrissey, said, “I supported the RVA casino plan last year, as I believed it would bring added jobs and provide economic opportunities for Richmond residents. It was soundly defeated in a purely grassroots effort, with the pro-RVA casino dumping in nearly $2 million dollars to a few thousand. The residents of Richmond spoke, and this is a non-starter, being pushed now by tone-deaf politicians and developers looking for a money grab. Let’s give the people of Petersburg a shot. Morrissey is spot on.”
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John Fredericks is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Virginia Star.
He is also a Trump 2020 delegate and the chairman of the Trump Virginia Delegation.