The first-ever Black-owned casino is set to open in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the slave-owning southern Confederacy during the US Civil War.“We [are] in the business of serving the African American community,” says Alfred C. Liggins, the 56-year-old prime mover and developer of the proposed casino. “[And] a big part of lifting up a community is about business opportunities.
“We viewed gaming for many, many years as one of those opportunities.”
Liggins, CEO of media conglomerate Urban One, plans to build his One Casino and Resort in Richmond’s predominantly Black Southside, the most deprived area of the city.
The project will feature a 2,500-room hotel, a theatre, 1,800 slot machines and 100 gaming tables.
Urban One says the new casino will generate US$525 million (£382.5m/€447m) in tax revenue and create 1,300 high paying jobs.
But not everyone is enamoured with the Black business plan and there is some opposition to the proposed casino.
Quinton Robbins, Director of a liberal activist group called Richmond for All, says: “It’s not economic justice to extract wealth from a neighbourhood. This is about the intersection of white supremacy and poverty.”
Liggins vehemently disagrees, countering: “I don’t know if this person knows what it’s like to be poor.”
Today the entrepreneur is worth a cool US$300 million (£219m/€255m); building on the success of a company founded by his mother that grew into Urban One.
“Gambling is fun and people have the right to do it, even people who aren’t white,” he said.
“[Critics] are assuming Black and Brown people don’t have the sort of intellectual capacity and free will to manage their desires for entertainment, which I kind of find offensive,” said Liggins.
With Native American casinos in mind, the jury remains out on whether gaming projects bring benefits to minority communities.
Emilia Simeonova, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and expert on Native American casinos, agreed that many casinos have indeed benefited some rural tribes.
But urban casinos may not bring the same benefits to city communities.
Said Simeonova: “Nobody quite knows. I don’t think there is any serious and well-regarded research in economics that shows casinos are good. There’s no conclusive evidence in either direction.”
But Liggins remains upbeat.
He’s betting his house on it. And placing the odds on Black.