South Side casino
Urban One has emerged victorious in the race to build a casino in Richmond, Virginia. The City Council announced that the Maryland-based broadcasting company beat out The Cordish Companies for the most coveted casino bid in the state.
Urban One’s proposal includes a $560m casino resort, up from $517m, on the South Side of the city near Commerce Road and Walmsley Boulevard, a piece of land currently owned by Philip Morris USA. It would include a 90,000-square-foot gaming floor, a sportsbook, a 3,000-seat theater, a 250-room hotel, and a dozen bars and restaurants.
Not being a gambling company itself, Urban One has partnered with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment on the project. Peninsula operates the Colonial Downs Racetrack in New Kent, Virginia, and the Rosie’s Gaming Emporium chain.
We are confident this is a world-class project.”
Leonard Sledge, director of the Richmond’s economic development office, called Urban One’s proposal “outstanding…in terms of the criteria we looked at project feasibility, the sustainability of the project location factors community benefits, economic impact to the city.”
“We are confident this is a world-class project,” he added.
Still requires resident vote
Though Urban One won the minds of the City Council, it still needs to win the hearts of Richmond’s residents. The Council will officially vote in June on the terms of the proposal and then the matter would go to the Richmond Circuit Court to approve a ballot referendum. Assuming that all goes smoothly, Richmond voters will get to give the casino a thumbs up or thumbs down on November 2.
Urban One has agreed to pay the city $25m within 30 days of the referendum vote’s certification. It will also pay 3% of its gambling revenue each year, though it negotiated a reduction to 1.875% for one year if the casino opens by December 31, 2023.
Other portions of the proposal include at least $16m in payments to local nonprofits and government organizations over the span of a decade, $30,000 in yearly payments to Richmond Public Schools for five years, and $200,000 annually to combat problem gambling.
Community not high on Cordish location
As mentioned, The Cordish Companies, also based out of Maryland, was the runner-up. Cordish is a casino developer and operator whose properties include Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland and Live! Casino Pittsburgh. It proposed a bigger, $600m development on the North Side. The Cordish resort would have been comprised of a 250,000-square-foot casino floor, a 4,000-seat theater, and a hotel with 300 standard rooms and 30 suites.
Local civic organizations were also overwhelmingly against the Cordish location.
It sounds like one of the issues with Cordish’s proposal was the location, though Sledge did not elaborate one what put Urban One over the top during this week’s announcement. Johnny Walker, research chair of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that area residents were strongly opposed to the proposed Arthur Ashe Boulevard location. Local civic organizations were also overwhelmingly against the Cordish location.
He added that after looking at both bids, he thought Cordish’s was better.
“The city may have weighed heavily the fact that the community was opposed to it,” he said. “And maybe the fact that it would be a Black-owned casino was also a factor.”
Urban One is the largest African-American-owned broadcasting company in the United States; it will actually build a studio in its Richmond casino resort. The company owns 55 radio stations and the TV One television network. It would be the first Black majority owner of a casino since Don Barden, who himself became the first Black casino owner in Las Vegas when his company, The Majestic Star Casino, LLC, bought Fitzgeralds Hotel and Casino (now The D) in December 2001.