Updated Nov 8, 2023 - Politics

Richmond voters reject second casino referendum

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

It turns out the house doesn't always win.

What's happening: Would-be casino developers lost their $10 million bet on a second gambling referendum in Richmond.

  • City voters defeated the ballot measure Tuesday 58% to 42%.

What they're saying: "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," the referendum committee said in a statement.

Zoom in: Voters showed little interest in the referendum during early voting, but turnout surged on Election Day.

  • General Registrar Keith Balmer said more than 40,000 people cast votes on Election Day, about 10,000 more than his office expected.

Catch up fast: Richmond is the only of five Virginia cities approved to host casinos where the issue has proven remotely controversial.

  • Casinos have already opened in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth. Plans are still underway for a fourth in Norfolk.

Dubbed the Richmond Grand Resort and Casino, the project would have been developed jointly by Urban One, which describes itself as country's biggest Black-owned multi-platform media company, and Churchill Downs Inc., which owns the eponymous Kentucky race track as well as casino properties around the country, including Colonial Downs and Rosie's in Richmond.

Of note: The casino's would-be developers spent a record $10 million on their referendum campaign, which works out to $135 per vote cast.

  • They blanketed local airways in ads, deployed a small army of paid canvassers, hosted concerts and block parties and gave away free meals at polling places nearly every day during early voting.

The big picture: Supporters argued it would bring investment and jobs to a neglected corner of South Richmond.

  • City leaders also pledged to spend about half of the $30 million in estimated new tax revenue on new early education and child care programs.

The other side: Opponents countered that a casino would only extract wealth from the city, noting that new tax revenues touted by supporters depended on locals gambling and losing more than $70 million a year.

Of note: Urban One drew controversy in the final days of the race when a host on one of its Richmond stations used antisemitic slurs against a leading opponent of the project.

  • In other programs promoting the proposed casino, Urban One's founder and board chair, Cathy Hughes, who is Black, used racial slurs to refer to Black residents who oppose the project and complained about the expense of the referendum campaign.
  • "I've had to pay lawyers and accountants and lobbyists and make contributions to everybody I thought could influence," she said.

Editor's note: This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.


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