Rushing to file lawsuit

Richmond city officials are doing whatever they can to try to get a casino built. The latest move comes in the form of a lawsuit, filed by Interim City Attorney Haskell C. Brown III on behalf of the city, to try to get a second casino referendum authorized.

City Hall fears the possibility of language being inserted that would block a possible referendum

The reason for the urgency and the legal maneuvering is to try to head the Virginia General Assembly off at the pass. State legislators have yet to finalize a budget and City Hall fears the possibility of language being inserted that would block a possible referendum.

According to the Richmond Free Press, Brown III filed the lawsuit on March 10, following a 45-day review period by the Virginia Lottery Board. When the Board had no objection, the interim city attorney went ahead with the suit.

Racing against budget bill

Maryland-based Urban One won the competition to develop a casino, selected by the Richmond City Council over finalist The Cordish Companies in late May 2021. It was not a done deal, however, as city residents had to approve construction via a November ballot referendum. Ultimately, voters rejected the South Side casino by a close 51% to 49% margin.

In January, however, the City Council approved a second referendum. In the meantime, the city of Petersburg, about 20 miles south of Richmond, wanted a shot to work with Urban One and have its own casino referendum. Some state lawmakers introduced bills that would have barred Richmond from holding a second referendum before Petersburg could have its first, but they didn’t pass.

The Senate’s budget bill, though, would prevent a second Richmond referendum until November 2023. The budget bill also requires Richmond to wait until the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission conducts a study on the viability of a casino in Petersburg and Central Virginia as a region for two casinos.

The key for Richmond, though, is that the General Assembly never passed a budget before adjourning last weekend. That doesn’t mean the budget bill is dead, as something needs to be approved by July 1, lest there be a government shutdown. And thus, it is a race against the clock; the city wants to win the lawsuit and secure a court order, believing that would supersede any anti-referendum language in the budget bill.

Virginia sportsbooks exploded in 2021

Until the beginning of last year, Virginia was a gambling desert. After failed attempts to legalize gambling in 2019, state lawmakers finally passed bills in 2020 to legalize both sports betting and brick-and-mortar casinos. The law allows for up to a dozen online sports betting licenses and five casinos. There could end up being as many as 19 internet betting apps, however, as apps operated by casinos would not count toward the 12, nor would apps associated with professional sports teams and leagues.

Virginia Lottery received 25 license applications from potential sports betting operators

During the second half of November 2021, the Virginia Lottery received 25 license applications from potential sports betting operators. FanDuel surprised everyone by becoming the first operator to launch on January 21, 2021. It was followed shortly thereafter by DraftKings, BetRivers, and BetMGM. There are now 11 online sports betting apps up and running in the Commonwealth.

Though no casinos have been built yet, four are in the works. Voters in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth approved casinos in their cities. None are expected to open until next year, Hard Rock does plan to open a temporary casino this spring while its Hard Rock Casino Bristol is under construction.

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