Double up | Richmond Free Press


Do you want a gambling casino built on a 100 acre commercial property in the South Side?

In addition to filling elective positions, this is the big question that voters in Richmond now face if they vote early or will face election day on Tuesday, November 2.

There is a lot of buzz – both positive and negative – about Project ONE Casino + Resort, a new venture for Baltimore-based black media conglomerate Urban One and its majority shareholders, Cathy Hughes, who chairs the board of administration, and his son, Alfred C. Liggins III.

Mr Liggins made sure of this by pushing for the ‘yes’ vote needed to apply for a state license to operate.

If Richmond voters approve of the casino, it would likely be the biggest project a black-owned company has ever undertaken in Virginia, a project involving a $ 565 million investment that would bring the city its first operating casino. complete with 2,000 slot machines, 110 table games and sports betting.

In addition to gambling, the project will include a 250-room luxury hotel, 15 restaurants, 55 acres of public park, a sound stage for creating films and other programs, and a 3,000-seat event center that should have at least 200 shows per year featuring renowned artists.

Aware of a strong current of opposition, Mr Liggins saturated the airwaves of television and radio in Richmond with advertisements in an attempt to motivate voters to tick the ‘yes’ box in the referendum to allow his company to vote. develop.

The ads tout 1,500 permanent jobs that would be created and the $ 30-50 million per year the casino would generate in tax revenue that could be used by the city to pay for services.

The ads also celebrate the casino as a product of a private company that would not require a dime of subsidy or support from taxpayers.

The casino and resort will be located at 2001 Walmsley Blvd., just off the Bells Road interchange on Interstate 95, in a relatively secluded industrial and commercial area with little connection to residential, downtown or museums and other attractions.

Armed with a marketing budget of $ 3-5 million, Mr Liggins also used print media advertising to hook the casino up, employed 50-60 canvassers to knock on the doors of potential voters, and posted messages on billboards to encourage people to vote for the casino.

While residents of four other Virginia cities – Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol – have overwhelmingly approved a casino in each of those communities, Mr. Liggins is taking nothing for granted about his plan to build a diverse business that includes to contract up to half. construction and up to half of its purchases from black and minority-owned businesses.

He has a lot of official support. The project garnered the unanimous support of elected city leaders, including Mayor Levar M. Stoney and members of City Council, who strongly supported the effort they see as creating a source of new revenue. This includes 8th District Councilor Reva M. Trammell, who represents the area in which the casino will be located.

If the voters of Richmond approve the casino, then Mr. Liggins will be able to apply for the required license from the Virginia Lottery, the state’s gambling regulator. If it gets over that hurdle, and it could take a year, Urban One would be able to open the only black-owned casino in the country right now, but not the first. This honor belongs to the late Don H. Barden of Detroit, who was the first black to own and operate a gambling establishment, first in Gary, Indiana, in 1996, and then in Las Vegas.

Despite going over 100 to 1, naysayers have organized themselves to fight the casino, using social media and their own door-to-door campaign. They’re trying to argue that a casino would make people spend money they can’t afford to lose to create the revenue that ONE Casino + Resort would need to make sure the city, state and the federal governments get their share of the taxes and that there is money to operate, to pay off the debt and to generate a profit.

Casinos are heavily taxed. Richmond alone predicts the casino would generate at least $ 300 million in revenue a year from gambling alone. The city expects to receive between 9% and 10% of that share, in addition to property tax revenue. , personal property taxes and taxes on utilities, tickets to concerts, hotel rooms and restaurants.

Although they seem to be gushing the money, casinos are still risky. Mr. Barden entered the world of Las Vegas casinos by buying out a bankrupt casino company. Before his death in 2011, he saw companies liquidated in bankruptcy proceedings.

Opponents accuse casinos of exploiting low-income residents who gamble their rent money by looking for a big score. Opponents received a boost after US Senator Tim Kaine, a resident of Richmond, made local headlines by confirming that he voted ‘no’ in the casino referendum when he voted on the 20th. September.

Senator Kaine “voted against the casino’s proposal. He thinks there are better ways to improve economic development in Richmond, ”according to a statement from his office.

Mr. Goldman

Paul Goldman, former chairman of the state’s Democratic Party and well-known political strategist who created the NO vote on the RVA casinos committee, sought to make the most of the senator’s vote.

In an online article, Mr. Goldman wrote: “Casino forces have said ugly things about those who dare to publicly oppose their Casino or point out this truth: the ballot proposal is based on those who go to the Casino LOSE 300,000,000 a year, every year, at that exploitative casino, most of that money coming from Richmond residents or those in the area.

Richmond State Senator Joseph D. Morrissey disagrees with Mr. Goldman’s views. He calls support for the casino “a given.” Along with other supporters, he points to casino projections that more than 2,000 people will be involved in construction, with future employees receiving an average salary of $ 55,000 per year as well as perks and profit sharing, according to the city ​​and Mr. Liggins.

“I think this is a game-changer that can transform South Richmond,” said Senator Morrissey, adding that it would create the first major destination south of the James River and with the prospect of attracting 2 million or more visitors per year .

Mr. Goldman cites studies indicating that most players are likely to come from within a 30 mile radius.

Senator Morrissey points to the city study which suggests that 80% of visitors to the casino would come from outside the city limits.

Other than Mr. Goldman and his committee, the other major opposition comes from a group called Richmond For All. Quinton Robbins, the group’s political director, said a survey of residents who live near the site found little enthusiasm.

Like Mr. Goldman, he believes that “casinos are an extractive industry that will steal our community just to make a few people rich. My neighbors are worried that his casino will harm the place we call home.

With the exception of a few thousand people listed as members, neither Mr. Goldman nor Richmond For All seem to generate the kind of public support that could stop the project.

Yet, based on a poll commissioned by Goldman in June, he believes the referendum results will be much closer than imagined.

Many Richmond residents objected to the sites proposed earlier, including a North Side location that now houses the city’s only movie theater complex and a South Side location next to a shopping complex on Forest Hill Avenue.

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