The Richmond casino referendum fails for the second time

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For the second time in two years, residents of Richmond, Virginia voted against casino gambling in their city. On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed Richmond Grand Resort and Casino, 58% to 41%. In November 2021, the results were extremely close: 51-49.

According to the Richmond Times-DispatchResidents of counties closest to the proposed casino site voted overwhelmingly in favor, but they were outweighed by Richmond residents further away. Opponents said a casino would exploit the surrounding neighborhoods, which are among the area’s poorest and predominantly black.

Virginia’s elections on Tuesday have shaped the future of the state legislature, but Samantha Barnett said so Times Dispatch that she was “explicitly in favor of voting against the casino.” Growing up in Atlantic City, she said, “We literally watched this happen. I know there are messages about economic development, but they are building this casino in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.”

Proponents touted job creation, economic development and increased tax revenue, as is common with potential casino projects. This revenue would have gone to childcare services. Mayor Levar Stoney, a strong supporter of a casino in Richmond, said $26.5 million would go toward building two day care centers and then $19 million a year would go into a child care trust fund.

“The alternative is that we try to find ways to do this by increasing taxes using the revenue that we currently have,” he said in September.

Probably the end

Urban One and Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) were the development partners for the Richmond Grand Resort and Casino, a project estimated to cost $562 million. In addition to a casino, it would have included a 250-room hotel and a 55-acre park. They spent $10 million on a door-to-door campaign to drum up support and turnout.

The competition for a casino in Richmond dates back to 2020, when the state legislature passed a law that would create five casinos in the state. Casinos have already opened in Bristol (Hard Rock), Portsmouth (Rivers) and Danville (Caesars). Another is yet to come in Norfolk, operated by the Pamunkey Tribe.

That leaves one left, which will probably now be somewhere other than Richmond. Petersburg, south of Richmond, is a possibility as local politicians have pushed for the possibility of holding a referendum, but the state legislature has done the city no favors. In February, the Senate Finance and Budget Committee voted against a bill that would have put a casino decision before local voters.

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