The city of Richmond, VA will soon select a casino development proposal from among three different bidders. The field has reportedly been whittled in half after six initial proposals came in from all around the country, each competing for the approval of Richmond’s citizens and policymakers, all of whom want the best deal possible for their town.
Should this be hailed as remarkable? Of course not, because that’s how it’s supposed to be. After all, transparency and open competition are the bedrock on which the American economy stands. However, of the five cities across Virginia where commercial casinos have been legalized, Richmond stands alone as the only one to go through a fair process that makes sense for its citizens. Unlike the cities of Norfolk, Danville, Portsmouth and Bristol, Richmond is holding a competition to determine which business deserves this lucrative opportunity.
Richmond’s mayor, Levar Stoney, correctly insisted that his city should be able to open up its casino development opportunity to bidders, this after lobbyists in Virginia fought hard to give cities the right to simply give casinos to their hand-picked, preferred operators.
But in Richmond, voters were empowered, as they should be. They were made a part of the process from the outset. In fact, before proposals were even submitted, the city put out a survey to find out what its citizens wanted to see in a future casino and to learn what was important to them.
Since then, Richmond has held a series of public hearings about the proposals and, if that weren’t enough, the city is deploying canvassing teams to engage community members, spread awareness and encourage feedback.
Compare that with Norfolk, where debate was stifled and city council meetings on the casino were announced last-minute in the dead of night. Norfolk’s citizens were told by their leadership that a decision had been made on their behalf, and that if anyone was going to open a casino on city-owned land it was going to be the obscure Pamunkey Indian Tribe and a completely unknown billionaire from Tennessee who the mayor says he’s never met or spoken with.
Want to know how and why that happened? Unsurprisingly, lots of people in Norfolk do as well. But their local politicians are not interested in explaining themselves and, at this point, no one knows exactly why the city got in bed with the Pamunkey Indians and an obscure billionaire from a neighboring state. No one knows how the conversations went, apparently not even the mayor. What is known, however, is that city lawmakers actively advocated for the Pamunkey when their duty was to remain advocates for their taxpayers, not a group of hand-picked developers enjoying a sole-source contract.
These politicians figured they could get away with it because, for years, no one has been holding them accountable. Norfolk’s citizens need only look at what is happening in Richmond to understand the travesty that has occurred at the hands of their elected representatives.
Casino rights are granted for the purpose of bringing in as much money as possible to a city, period. They are there to create jobs that contribute to tax rolls, attract tourist dollars and pull in gaming taxes and other associated income.
The differences between what the citizens of Norfolk are getting and the citizens of Richmond are getting is staggering. Golden Nugget pledged to pay Richmond roughly $70 million up-front as part of their proposal, while Bally’s offered $100 million. Cordish Companies of Baltimore declared itself ready to deliver Richmond a whopping $200 million up-front.
Compare that with Norfolk’s chosen developers who collectively offered the city precisely nothing, not a single dollar. Lack of competition means no great benefits for taxpayers resulting in what appears to be nothing but a backroom deal and a giveaway. Once again the taxpayers suffer.
In Norfolk, the Pamunkey are now kicking around the idea of putting up a casino inside of a tent, in the middle of a parking lot. With no competition, they have no incentive to deliver anything more than the bare minimum. To make matters worse, they have exactly zero experience building or operating something as simple as a bingo parlor, let alone the complex operations of a casino, which typically handles millions of dollars in cash daily.
Unsurprisingly, absolutely no one in Norfolk’s government is willing to admit that they made a huge mistake. The toothless local press has done nothing to expose the facts. The only people willing to demand accountability and transparency have been a small group of local volunteers and the city has tried to ignore them at every turn.
The mayor and city council in Virginia’s capital city are delivering for their constituents by conducting an open and fair competition to achieve the best deal and secure the highest quality casino for its citizens. Richmond’s common-sense approach ensures the city will benefit mightily for decades to come, while Norfolk and other Virginia towns have opted instead for a self-defeating approach that squanders opportunity and guarantees failure.
Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.”