On the Table

Richmond residents shared concerns about the potential impacts of six casino development proposals at a community engagement meeting Tuesday.

It was the third in a series of virtual meetings about possible benefits and downsides associated with the six responses from casino developers that the city received last month after issuing a request for project proposals. Richmond is one of five cities in Virginia where the state legislature has allowed casino gambling through a voter referendum.

A nine-person evaluation panel that includes members of Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration and City Council members Andreas Addison and Ellen Robertson will evaluate the project proposals over the coming months in collaboration with Convergence Strategy Group, an outside consulting agency hired to assist with the selection process. The group is expected to recommend a preferred operator and site for City Council’s approval by this summer.

The six projects, which are almost all concentrated in South Richmond, were submitted by groups including the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Maryland-based media company Urban One and casino developer Bally’s. Each promises hundreds of hotel rooms, expansive entertainment venues and sprawling casino floors. The selected casino operator would be fully responsible for funding the construction and operation of the project, including renovations to surrounding infrastructure as needed.

At the meeting, Richmond Economic Development Director Leonard Sledge and two representatives from Convergence Strategy Group fielded questions that mainly centered around expected community benefits, as well as concerns with possible increases in crime and traffic that could result from a casino in the city.

“I’m shocked and appalled that the city has thought this is something good for our communities, for our kids, for our culture. Let’s move forward in positive ways, not allowing casinos to come to our city and prey on those kids and communities,” attendee Robin Martin wrote in the meeting’s live chat room.

Convergence Managing Partner Scott Fisher said the agency doesn’t expect to see an uptick in criminal activity around the casino site based on interviews with police officials in comparable markets in response to concerns about a rise in crime. Sledge said it’s too early in the process to conduct a traffic impact analysis for all six proposed sites.

Others were concerned about the casino developers outsourcing their staff and questioned whether a casino would be more beneficial to the city than other projects such as a hotel, restaurant or grocery store.

According to an assessment of the proposals conducted by Convergence, a resort casino could generate between $29 million to $31 million in local tax revenues annually, and the firm expects that the project would generate approximately 1,875 to 2,035 full-time-equivalent jobs. Sledge said the city intends to set hiring targets for Richmond residents in the development agreement once the evaluation panel selects an operator.

The city expects to channel casino revenues toward its general fund, but attendees said gains from the development should be devoted solely to community benefits.

“In terms of, ‘Could there be other projects to fund things that the community needs and desires?’ the short answer is yes,” Sledge said. “But the reality is, as I shared previously, the opportunity to generate $30 million a year annually [from a single project] is a very significant amount.”

Three more virtual meetings will be held on March 30 and 31 and April 1. The Cordish Companies, one of the six bidders who aims to build a casino on the current Movieland site in Scott’s Addition, also will hold community meetings at the theater on March 31 and April 1.

Additionally, the city is gathering written responses about concerns and benefits associated with the casino project that will be open until April 6. To participate and learn more about the city’s operator selection process, visit rva.gov/economic-development/resort-casino.

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