RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — In spite of intense lobbying efforts, Richmond voters on Tuesday turned down for the second time a ballot measure that would have paved the way for a proposed resort with a gambling facility in the capital of Virginia.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
In 2021, developers attempted to gain approval when the state Legislature authorized the construction of five gambling establishments throughout the state, contingent upon voter approval. However, the residents of Richmond rejected the project then and did so again on Tuesday.
The development plan, known as the Richmond Grand Resort and Casino, was proposed for a former tobacco company location just off Interstate 95 in South Richmond. Urban One, a publicly traded media company, and Churchill Downs, the operator of the Kentucky Derby and other gambling establishments nationwide, jointly spearheaded the project.
The developers made extensive promises regarding job creation, tax revenues, and entertainment offerings that the establishment would bring. They also invested nearly $10 million in a political committee advocating for the project. Numerous city leaders, including Mayor Levar Stoney, a potential candidate for governor in 2025, as well as local businesses and civil rights organizations, showed enthusiastic support.
Opponents expressed concerns about the scrutiny of the developers, the site of the project, and the gambling industry as a whole, arguing that it would lead to exploitation of low-income and working-class individuals. They also objected to being asked to vote again on the issue.
“Richmond city officials should feel ashamed that they did not heed voters’ voices the first time. Hopefully, the message conveyed by voters tonight will result in the casino industry being forced to leave and never return,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the socially conservative Family Foundation of Virginia and leader of the anti-gambling effort, the Richmond Anti-Corruption League.
In the final days of the campaign, the developers received an apology from a prominent opponent of the project, Paul Goldman, a longtime Democratic Party activist, following offensive remarks made against them by a guest radio host on the Urban One station. An apology was requested.
“The people of Richmond have made it abundantly clear: You cannot construct a new city on old resentments,” stated Goldman in a press release.
The proposal only narrowly failed in 2021; however, Tuesday’s outcome was much more decisive.
In 2020, Virginia lawmakers opened the possibility of gambling establishments by passing legislation that permits the construction of five casinos throughout the state, subject to initial voter approval. Supporters argued that the casino would provide a significant economic boost to the struggling region.
Three establishments have already opened — in Bristol, Portsmouth, and Danville — all in close proximity to the state’s border with North Carolina. A fourth is gradually making progress in Norfolk.
Petersburg, a financially distressed city located south of Richmond, had previously requested the opportunity to hold its own referendum after Richmond’s initial referendum failed. It may attempt to do so again during next year’s General Assembly session.
Sarah Rankin, The Associated Press