58% voted 'no'

Virginia: Richmond voters reject ballot measure on $562M casino project for a second time

Reading time 2:19 min

The Richmond Grand Resort and Casino project in Virginia has been rejected by city voters for a second time and by a much larger margin than the first casino referendum held in 2021, as about 58% of Richmond voters said no to the $562 million project on Tuesday.

The pro-casino PAC Richmond Wins, Vote Yes issued a statement Tuesday night about the second Richmond casino referendum’s defeat. 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 South Side who poured their hearts into this project," the statement read, according to Virginia Business.

This is the second time that Richmond voters have rejected the ballot measure. Developers first tried in 2021, after the state Legislature paved the way for five casinos around the state if voters first gave their signoff. Of the five chosen cities, Richmond was the only one where voters rejected the project when it was first put on the ballot.

In the end, the gap between "no" voters and "yes" voters was much bigger in 2023, after a narrow defeat of about 1,500 votes in 2021. This year, about 77,000 people voted in Richmond, compared to 79,000 in 2021, although the referendum’s geographical and demographic divide remained similar. With 72 precincts reporting Election Day votes and about 17,000 early votes counted, 45,612 Richmonders voted no, and 32,427 people voted yes, a 58.45% to 41.55% margin, as reported by the above-mentioned media.

In 2021, more of the city’s North Side and West End voters voted against the casino referendum, while more South Side and East End residents, in majority black districts, voted yes. The divide was similar in 2023, with South Side precincts and a few others in Richmond’s East End with a “yes” majority. 

Rendering for the Richmond casino project.

The project was proposed at a former tobacco company site just off Interstate 95 in south Richmond. The development plan was a joint venture between Urban One, a publicly traded media company, and Churchill Downs, the Louisville-based operator of the Kentucky Derby that also runs gambling establishments across the country.

The developers had previously said the facility would bring about job growth, tax revenue, and entertainment. They also poured around $10 million into a political committee that advocated for the project. Many city leaders, including Mayor Levar Stoney, a presumptive candidate for governor in 2025, were ardent supporters, along with local businesses and civil rights groups.

The proposed casino would have included a 250-room hotel, a 3,000-seat concert venue, and a soundstage where Urban One pledged to invest $50 million over 10 years in TV, movie, and audio productions. Casino backers said that the project would have created an estimated 1,300 permanent jobs and generate $30 million in annual tax revenue.

Opponents, however, raised concerns about the vetting of the developers, the project’s site, and the casino industry in general, arguing that it would exploit the poor and working class. They also objected to being asked to vote on the issue again.

In 2020, Virginia politicians opened the door to casinos by approving legislation allowing five to be built around the state if the projects first secured voter approval. Three have opened so far, in Bristol, Portsmouth, and Danville, all relatively near the state’s border with North Carolina. A fourth is moving forward slowly in Norfolk.

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