Powerful Casino Union Opposes Richmond Gaming Referendum Retry

The nation’s leading casino union has come out in opposition to efforts in Richmond, Virginia to ask city residents again to authorize a commercial gaming resort.

Unite Here Local 25, which represents casino workers in Maryland, says Richmond should wait at least a year before again asking city residents to weigh in on a proposed casino resort. The union believes the failed 2021 referendum was because of an inadequate proposal that wouldn’t have rightly compensated workers. (Image: Casino.org)
Unite Here Local 25, which represents casino workers in Maryland, says Richmond should wait at least a year before again asking city residents to weigh in on a proposed casino resort. The union believes the failed 2021 referendum was because of an inadequate proposal that wouldn’t have rightly compensated workers. (Image: Casino.org)

Unite Here Local 25 represents some 7,500 workers in the hotel, restaurant, and casino industries in the DC metro, including in Northern Virginia. The trade group is part of the UNITE HERE national organization that counts more than 300,000 members.

The local chapter says following the failed Richmond casino referendum last year, the city shouldn’t race to ask residents again on the gaming issue. The referendum was narrowly defeated 51-49% during last November’s election.

Richmonders were weighing in on a proposed $565 million development called ONE Casino + Resort. Richmond selected the bid from a partnership led by Urban One, a Black-focused media conglomerate, and casino operator Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E).

Richmond was one of five cities that was afforded a single gaming license through 2020 state legislation. But city residents said “No” to the development that was meant to rejuvenate the capital’s regional economy.

Undeterred, the Richmond City Council is moving forward with the process to again ask city residents regarding ONE Casino. Backers of the effort believe adequate support will come with better messaging regarding the potential benefits of allowing the casino to be built near the Philip Morris tobacco manufacturing plant along I-95, south of downtown.

Union Opposition

Unite Here Local 25 Political Director Sam Epps says the union isn’t convinced the ONE Casino plan presents the best opportunity for Richmond or the workers the resort would employ. The organization, he adds, is of the impression that the Urban One/P2E pitch pales in comparison with what MGM Resorts accomplished outside of DC in Maryland with MGM National Harbor.

Citing “low wage jobs with poor benefits,” Epps said Unite Here supports Richmond going back to the drawing board, or considering allowing the Richmond gaming concession to be transferred to nearby Petersburg. State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), whose district encompasses Petersburg, is spearheading the latter initiative.

We strongly support further studying the state and local revenue impacts so that we can ensure that any new casino creates equitable economic development and high-quality jobs,” Epps said. “Whether this casino is built in Richmond or Petersburg, it should be built in a way that benefits the community and the commonwealth, not simply enriches a developer.”

Countering Union Claims

Urban One and P2E certainly don’t think the 1,500 permanent jobs expected to be created by way of ONE Casino + Resort would be “low wage” careers with “poor benefits.” The developers said the average salary of the positions would be around $55,000, with a $15 per hour minimum across the resort.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said stalling the city’s potential casino will only allow casinos being built in Norfolk and Portsmouth to establish market dominance.

“We don’t want to see any delays,” Stoney said.

While Morrissey’s bill to relocate Richmond’s casino license to Petersburg was rejected by a Senate committee last month, the Senator says he will be “relentless when it comes to getting this casino for Petersburg.”

Perhaps a likelier impediment for Stoney and Richmond moving forward with a casino revote is the Virginia 2022 Budget Bill approved by the state Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee last month. The budget plan includes language that would prevent Richmond from holding another local gaming referendum until at least 2023.

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