During a casino referendum held earlier this month, the voters of Richmond, Virginia rejected, for a second time, the proposal suggested for the construction of the $562 million Richmond Grand Resort and Casino.
Another gaming referendum had taken place in Richmond two years ago, the outcome of which offered the same results. The 2023 casino proposal, however, was rejected by a significantly wider margin than it had two years ago.
It is also worth noting that the refusal of this proposal on behalf of the inhabitants of Richmond comes about despite the support received by city leaders and the multi-million-dollar campaigns that were funded by the casino developers.
Results of the Richmond Gaming Referendum
58% of Richmonders voted against the construction of the casino.
42% of Richmonders cast a ballot in favor of the construction of the casino.
Following the gaming referendum that took place early on in the month of November, the Board of Elections had released the unofficial results of the casino proposal.
In these results, almost 18,000 early voting ballots were excluded, however the margin between the two opposing sides was large enough to confirm which side had won.
The support received for this $562 million project was split between the geographical lines of the city of Richmond:
The inhabitants of the south side of the city, the location in which the casino would have been built, showed much more support for the success of this proposal when compared to the northern precincts of Richmond.
Those opposed to the Richmond Casino Proposal
There were many individuals who were adamantly opposed to the success of this casino project, stating that its construction would inevitably lead to the exploitation of the poor and working class.
In addition to this, the opponents of the casino proposal voiced their concerns regarding the casino industry as a whole, as well as the intention of the developers and their vetting processes.
Paul Goldman, a local activist and inhabitant of Richmond, Virginia, was responsible for organizing the anti-casino construction campaign which he referred to as a ‘David versus Goliath’ battle.
In this way, Goldman firmly suggests that the proposal for the construction of a casino in the city of Richmond constitutes a battle in which he and his fellow activists are considerably outspent by the powerful companies who only wish to benefit from its success.
In reaction to the crushing defeat of this proposal, Goldman stated the following:
“The people of Richmond have made the following clear: you can’t build a new city in old resentments.”
Goldman elaborated on this statement in the following comment:
“They came out and voted for the future of the city. They rejected the politics of the past. They want a path for the future. This is great. We got a coalition. We got an election coming next year. Let’s build a team that wants to build and move the city forward in a positive way. You can’t build a future on these old resentment politics. I know it. Hopefully, people see it now.”
In addition to this, Victoria Cobb, head of the anti-casino effort and the president of the socially conservative Family Foundation of Virginia, also spoke about this issue:
“Richmond City officials should be embarrassed that they didn’t listen to the voters the first time. Hopefully, the message sent tonight by voters will send the casino industry packing, never to return.”
Those in support of the Richmond Casino Proposal
The leading developers of the casino project were adamant in their promises of what the construction of this casino would provide: tax revenue, entertainment options, and the considerable growth of job opportunities.
Following the results of the gaming referendum, ‘Richmond Wins Vote Yes’, a pro-casino group in Richmond, conceded their defeat and made the following statement:
“We are proud to have run a community-centered campaign to create more opportunities for residents of this great city to rise into the middle class. We are grateful to the thousands of Richmonders who voted for good jobs and a stronger city, especially those in Southside who poured their hearts into this project.”
The Mayor of Richmond, Levar Stoney, gave his full support for the construction of this $562M casino and, in reaction to the crushing defeat of its proposal, stated the following:
“I will continue to be a voice for communities that have been historically overlooked and underserved. I will work for more accessible and affordable childcare, for good-paying jobs, and for an abundance of opportunities for ALL Richmonders – no matter their zip code or socioeconomic status.”
Stoney and other supporters of this $562M project were a huge proponent for the success of this proposal in reaction to their belief that the construction of this casino would bring a huge shift in the economic development of the south side of the city of Richmond.
Comparison to the Proposed Casino Project of 2021
Back in 2021, the inhabitants of Richmond had rejected another proposal that incorporated plans to build a casino in the city.
The 2021 proposal, however, failed by a much narrower margin, with 51% of voters casting a ballot against it and 49% of voters in its favor.
The second effort made in 2023 to seek the approval for the construction of this casino was spurred by this narrow margin, leading the main developers of the project to think that its success was a realistic possibility.
The hard-fought campaign
Backers of the Richmond casino proposal faced a much more significant defeat than the one faced 2 years before.
The leading developers of the potential 2023 casino project poured approximately $10 million into a political committee that would advocate for the success of this proposal.
Ardent supporters of this campaign included Mayor Levar Stoney, local businesses, and a number of civil rights groups.
Had the proposal been successful, the $562 million casino project would have been developed through a partnership between Maryland-based media company Urban One and Churchill Downs.
It is noteworthy to point out that this casino proposal stemmed from a state legislative package that was adopted back in 2020.
In this state legislative package, five cities in Virginia were proposed as the potential locations for the construction of a casino in each.
Richmond was targeted as one of these cities, along with Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville.
These four cities passed their own individual gaming referendums a few years ago, shortly after the state legislative package was proposed.
Richmond is the only city amongst those targeted that rejected such a proposal for development.
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