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Richmond Voters Shoot Down Casino Project at the Polls

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In a setback for gambling interests in Virginia, Richmond's attempt to greenlight the $562 million Richmond Grand Resort & Casino was met with a resounding "no" from about 58% of voters on Tuesday. This marks a more significant defeat compared to the 2021 referendum, which saw a narrower margin of rejection.

No Hope for Richmond Casino

The corporate backers of the proposed casino, Urban One and Churchill Downs, spared no expense this time, pouring over $10 million into advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts. These efforts included a free Isley Brothers concert and subsidized food truck meals near early voting facilities throughout October and November. However, the lavish spending did not translate into public support.

Related: Planned Casino in Richmond, Virginia, Leads to Lawsuit

Controversy also loomed large over the casino proposal, with reports emerging of antisemitic and racially insensitive speech on Urban One-owned radio stations in Richmond. This added dimension of controversy may have played a role in swaying public opinion against the project.

In 2023, despite a slightly lower voter turnout compared to 2021, the margin of defeat widened significantly. With 72 precincts reporting Election Day votes and approximately 17,000 early votes counted, 45,612 Richmonders voted against the casino, while 32,427 voted in favor, resulting in a 58.45% to 41.55% margin.

The geographical and demographic divide observed in 2021 persisted, with North Side and West End voters, typically wealthier and whiter, opposing the casino. On the other side of the battle, South Side and East End residents, primarily in Black-majority districts, showed support.

Support by Mayor No Help

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a casino supporter, expressed his commitment to advocating for historically overlooked and underserved communities. Stoney had proposed dedicating a portion of the casino's tax revenue to childcare services in the city.

The failed casino proposal included plans for a 250-room hotel, a 3,000-seat concert venue and a soundstage where Urban One pledged a $50 million investment over ten years in TV, movie, and audio productions. Proponents estimated the project would create 1,300 permanent jobs and generate $30 million in annual tax revenue.

Unlike the 2021 attempt, Urban One collaborated with Kentucky-based Churchill Downs this time, with the companies serving as equal partners in the venture. Their combined spending, as reflected in campaign finance reports, quadrupled compared to Urban One's expenditure in 2021.

The failure of the public vote halts the Richmond project, but Virginians have other casinos to consider. The original plan included five casinos, and three – in Briston, Danville and Portsmouth – are already open. Another in Norfolk is currently under development

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