Richmond casino to create jobs, bring $ to city, consultants say

Two thousand new jobs and at least $31 million in new revenue for City Hall coffers.

That is the minimum the development of a casino-hotel complex should yield for Richmond, according to Scott Fisher and Suzanne P. Leckert of New Orleans-based Convergence Strategy Group.

Mr. Fisher and Ms. Leckert, who have consulted on more than 400 gaming projects world-wide, offered their projections during a briefing for City Council on Monday afternoon.

The city is employing them to assist in the selection of the company that would build and operate a gambling resort.

Six companies have responded to the city’s request for proposals, with five seeking to develop on South Side and one on North Side. Black-owned media company Urban One is among the bidders for a South Side location.

The casino briefing came just before a short, regular meeting during which the council voted 9-0 to:

• Overhaul the city’s zoning regulations to allow homeless shelters and other types of temporary and permanent housing for low-income people to be built in virtually every part of the city.

• Allow Commonwealth Catholic Charities Housing Corp. to invest $9 million to create 56 affordable housing units on the site of the long-vacant and now demolished St. Elizabeth’s School in North Side.

On the casino front, the consultants projected a casino should draw about 2.8 million visitors a year and pull in between $320 million and $389 million in annual gaming revenue, depending on the location and the level of competition from existing gambling operations, such as the Rosie’s operation in Richmond and the four other approved casinos to be located in cities along the North Carolina border.

The findings could be conservative as the Rosie’s Gaming Emporium on Midlothian Turnpike in South Side already is taking in about $800 million in bets a year. One element of competition is to be made illegal on July 1 — the so-called “skill game” slot machines now set up at convenience stores, gas stations and other retail outlets.

Mr. Fisher and Ms. Leckert sought to reassure City Council that the casinos would be good community partners and would not generate any substantial increases in social ills, including gambling addiction and crime.

According to the consultants, any ills would be relatively negligible based on a review of repeated studies conducted in Las Vegas, Massachusetts and other cities and their own discussions with law enforcement in cities with casinos.

Mr. Fisher noted that the information indicates that about 1 percent of those who play are gambling addicts needing help. He reminded the council that the state will use a share of the tax revenue from casinos to provide programs to assist problem gamblers.

As for crime, Mr. Fisher said police officials in Virginia believe there would be no surge with the arrival of a casino. He said law enforcement officials said the level of crime “would be no different than occurs at big-box stores, like Walmart, and would mainly be the kind of opportunistic crime that occurs at any other retail establishment.” He said the casinos are used to providing security for customers in cooperation with local police departments.

Ms. Leckert and Ms. Fisher said the casino would provide a financial shot in the arm for the city. They estimated that the city’s share of the state’s casino tax should yield $19 million to $21 million a year in new revenue for the city’s general fund, with local real estate, personal property, meals, admission and lodging taxes adding $10 million to $12 million more annually.

And if Richmond negotiates as well as Danville, the capital city could get an upfront $15 million to $20 million from the winning bidder and potentially gain another fractional share of the gross revenue that is bet in addition to the state tax in which the city would share.

By eliciting competition, “Richmond is in a great position” to extract concessions, Ms. Leckert said. Among other things, the city could ensure that Black-owned and minority-owned businesses participate in construction and secure opportunities as vendors and that city residents get considered first for jobs,

And there would be plenty of job opportunities, the consultants said. The casino-resort hotel would be a pipeline for skilled and unskilled jobs in a host of fields, ranging from management, computer technology and finance to custodial services, customer service, security and operation of gaming tables.

Along with a casino offering concerts, restaurants and hotel services that could spur visitation, the consultants said virtually every casino now operating donates $15 million to $30 million annually to benefit nonprofits and other organizations.

Mr. Fisher said that casinos want to be “good community partners” and dispel any concerns about the impact they would cause.

According to Leonard Sledge, director of economic development for the City of Richmond, the city is posting information on its websites, including RVA.gov, and is holding a series of virtual meetings that began this week to hear from residents.

On the rezoning front, 6th District Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson joined with Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration to remove the language that restricted the location of homeless shelters to a few areas of the city, including her district.

The overhaul that grew out of the city’s homeless housing strategy secured unanimous support despite warnings from two city residents that the push to spread out housing for the homeless and others in need of stable shelter could tank residential property values.

The council also voted 9-0 for the Commonwealth Catholic Charities plan to develop 14 three-story buildings on 3.5 acres in the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Fourqurean Lane where a school once stood in Highland Park. The project also is to include a community center, outdoor recreational space and a park garden.

The site is adjacent to St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church and close to two other community landmarks, Fifth Street Baptist Church and Hotchkiss Field.

This was the third or fourth attempt to redevelop the site for housing. Others had tried and failed to gain community and City Council support to create new apartments and other housing on the site in the more than three decades since the Catholic elementary school closed.

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