Early voting has begin in Virginia and the Richmond casino advocates have gone all-in with the mayor and City Council to make sure the referendum got back on the ballot and now are betting the house with an absurd amount of money to make sure the referendum passes this time.
Three weeks or so ago, the regurgitation of the casino referendum got a round of approval from almost everyone on City Council in a meeting that was filled with unearned righteousness about how it was going to save the city (kudos to Councilwoman Katherine Jordan for the lone no vote).
Councilmembers contended that misinformation about the project the first go-round warranted putting it to the voters a second time. They stressed that the development (no longer being referred to as a casino), would not involve funding support from the city and would create jobs and economic opportunities for Southside and the rest of the city.
Of course, most people knew this the last go-round because the advocates of the casino spent $2.5 million on billboards, mailers, and ads telling us ad nauseam about the “benefits” of a casino and how it wouldn’t cost the city anything. Now, they want to pretend we were too stupid to know that the real reasons they were pushing the first time around weren’t what they spent $2.5 million promoting. Continue reading →
The casino referendum is the issue that won’t go away — kind of like a desperate or compulsive gambler who stays put because the next hand is the winning hand, or the slot player who is completely convinced the next pull of that handle will deliver the jackpot. At some point, you need to walk away.
The relentless effort to build a casino in Richmond and revive the referendum for the third time in 2023 (it failed in 2021 and tried but failed to return to the ballot in 2022) is about to become the hottest potato tossed around the General Assembly session when it opens next week. I won’t bore you to tears with recapping the details from the past few months — this is a look back at the vote in 2021 and what it means in 2023 — but you can read more about the non-stop casino drama here, here, and here, if you so desire.
The people voted the casino down in 2021 in a referendum that was required by the state, but Mayor Stoney and others looked at the results and concluded the easiest and most convenient explanation of the final tally could be explained by race. Except, what Stoney and others maybe didn’t realize is that the voting data show that the referendum failed because a huge number of Terry McAuliffe voters also voted against the casino.
Before we get into the data, however, let’s set the stage. Richmond is lobbying the legislature hard as we speak and will stop at nothing to get the referendum back on the ballot in 2023. Petersburg wants to have a shot at a casino referendum next year and make Richmond wait a few years since they already tried and failed. If Richmond does get approval for another referendum, the casino applicant in Petersburg has said it will not move forward with its plan and there would be no need for a referendum in Petersburg. So, the stakes are clear and the battle has already been joined. Stay tuned.
The inability of Richmond’s leaders to get the casino application/selection process completed and on the ballot for the 2020 election (like the other four casinos in Virginia did) cost them dearly. In a presidential year, that referendum would have been approved easily given the high level of turnout (the other four cities approved their referendums in 2020 with at least 65%). We saw a tight gubernatorial race in 2021 (with a record voter turnout for a gubernatorial election, but still lower than a presidential year), and the casino referendum went down to a very narrow defeat. Continue reading →
Portsmouth has a lot of problems. Look for them to get worse in February when its new casino is scheduled to open.
A key thing you need to know about the casino is that it is the realization of Louise Lucas’ vision. Senator Lucas has spent 22 years promoting a casino in Portsmouth. As if that was just the thing Portsmouth needed to become a successful city.
Her vision was clarified by nearly $50,000 in campaign donations from casino interests.
Introduced in January 2019 by Lucas, Virginia Senate Bill 1126 earmarked commercial casinos for the towns of Bristol, Danville, and Portsmouth. The legislation also permitted the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build Native American casinos in Richmond and Norfolk.
Rivers Casino Portsmouth is scheduled to open in February, just across the water or through the tunnels here in South Hampton Roads from the new casino in Norfolk that will open in 2024.
Both were teed up by a Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee (JLARC) study required by that legislation prior to the votes of the citizens of those five locations.
The site-specific study done for JLARC by the Innovation Group projects the casino in Norfolk will generate only slightly more revenue than the one in Portsmouth. It forecasts that in 2025, the Norfolk casino would produce about $150 million in total revenue and the Portsmouth site $130 million. Continue reading →
Local referenda, while important locally, are often overlooked in the media coverage of elections. However, the results of those elections may provide some insight into the mood of the electorate, at least in some areas of the state. Following is a summary of the results of the local referenda on the ballot last Tuesday.
Localities cannot hold a referendum unless authorized or required by state law. The most common referendum question has to do with the issuance of general obligation bonds. The state constitution governs when a referendum is required. Generally speaking, a county cannot issue general obligation bonds unless approved by the voters in a referendum. In contrast, cities and towns are not required to have a referendum. However, some cities have charter provisions restricting how much general obligation debt they can issue. Virginia Beach and Danville, the two cities that held bond referenda this year, fall into this category.
In addition, referenda are allowed or required on a variety of policy questions. This year there were referenda on the levying of additional sales tax, establishment of gambling enterprises, and replacement or relocation of monuments. Continue reading →
In the first six months of 2021, individuals requesting help for gambling-related problems made 394 phone calls to the Virginia Problem Gambling Helpline. That compares to 335 intakes in all of 2020, and 311 intakes in 2019 — meaning the Commonwealth is seeing a significant increase in call volume made by individuals with gambling problems or family members who are concerned for them.
The increase in help-seeking phone calls corresponds with the expansion of gambling availability within the Commonwealth. Data from other states suggests that when gambling expands, rates of problem gambling tend to rise, although these often level off. Most importantly, it signifies an urgency need to grow a network of professionals to treat this rising need. Continue reading →
Dr. Daniel Carey M.D., Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, will soon apply to the federal government for funding for substance abuse prevention grants.
He plans to tell the federal government that additional people, mostly poor and Black, are going to suffer and die from mental illness and substance abuse because we legalized marijuana, casinos and sports betting.
But apparently we did it for a good cause — equity — or so some say.
The opening statement of that draft application reads:
Statewide Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Behavioral Health and Substance Use
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health impact, uncertainty, social isolation, and economic distress are expected to substantially increase the behavioral health needs of Virginians. Increased alcohol, substance use, including increased overdose rates are key concerns, as well as COVID-19 impacts already evident in Virginia.
Minority small business owners operating under the name “Virginia Small Businesses for Skill Games” are calling on Governor Ralph Northam to amend legislation to keep the game terminals in bars, restaurants and convenience stores. Casinos, which are years away from opening in the four localities where they have been approved, have lobbied to eliminate the slot machine-like terminals which would compete with their franchises. Continue reading →
The Governor is in a tug-of-war with his Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly. The objects of their contention are the so-called “skill games” (also sometimes called “gray machines”).
The skill games are video games now found in numerous truck stops and convenience stores that offer a cash prize to the winners. The opponents of such games have denounced them as illegal gambling. One Commonwealth’s attorney has charged the distributor of such games for violating Virginia law. The games’ distributors contend they are games of skill. Continue reading →
It’s not called the OLD Dominion for nothing. Virginia has lagged the nation in allowing legalized casino gambling. This is especially noteworthy since the United States doesn’t have a very tolerant attitude toward legalized gambling compared to other countries. In other words, Virginia has been a laggard within a lagging nation. That is changing. As of 1997 only two US states allowed legal casino gambling. Today 43 US states have operating casinos. Virginia is not among those 43 states. Is anybody surprised? However, legislation passed in 2019 will change that. It seems very likely that Virginia will be joining the modern world of legalized gambling in 2020 (and beyond). The biggest barrier to Virginia casinos opening in 2020 is the bureaucracy of our state government. More on that in a moment. First, let’s review a brief history of legalized gambling in the Old Dominion.
2017 State revenue on gambling operations. Click for larger view. Source: American Gaming Association Annual Report. Virginia should appear on future lists.
If Virginia is going to sell its soul, we should at least get the market price.
The Virginia Racing Commission is starting to publish monthly reports on the cash flow to Colonial Downs and to the government under the new state-granted monopoly to operate gambling dens. Any relationship to horse racing in these establishments is just an elaborate ruse, although there is this interesting new word in the industry: Racinos.
The April, May and June reports, which you can find here, track the slow roll opening of the slot machine facilities in Vinton, Richmond and at the main racetrack site in New Kent County. Only the June report picks up some of the operation at the facility just opened on Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond, the excitement captured by this Richmond Times-Dispatch account. Continue reading →
Horse Race Slot Machine Circa 1937 (Not What’s Coming Now)
The Sport of Kings apparently cannot survive today unless between races the peasants are pumping their copper into slots.
“The new law acknowledges what several other horse racing states already have concluded: that the new economic realities to sustain a viable horse racing industry require an alternative form of gaming to offset the high cost of live racing,” writes industry advocate Jeb Hannum in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Continue reading →
Untold thousands of Virginians just poured their money into the recent multi-state Mega Millions drawing won by someone in California. Governor Jerry Brown sends his thanks for his cut. But based on a recent news release our own governor is also very pleased with the performance of the Virginia Lottery as it approaches its 30th anniversary.
As with any other game of chance, the house has many ways to win.
Years of debate in the General Assembly led to a November 1987 lottery referendum, which passed with about 57 percent in favor. The games started less than a year later. According to information on the Virginia Lottery website, and plugging in the unaudited totals from fiscal year 2018, over 30 years the lottery has:
Received from players $37 billion in cash (sales).
Returned about $21 billion of that back to players in prizes. The net after taxes is not reported, so that might really be about $16 or 17 billion.
Transferred about $12.5 billion to the state earmarked for education (but there is no proof local schools are better funded than they would otherwise be.)
Spent about $2 billion on its own overhead and advertising and another $2 billion on compensation to retailers. (State and local taxes gets a cut of that, too.)
Bacon's Rebellion is Virginia's leading politically non-aligned portal for news, opinions and analysis about state, regional and local public policy. Read more about us here.
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