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Richmond Voters Reject A Proposed Casino Project For The Second Time

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The do-over referendum for the Richmond casino project was unsuccessful at the ballot box by a much wider margin compared to the first casino referendum that was held two years ago, back in 2021. The primary reason for this is that nearly 58% of the voters of the casino project voted against the Richmond Grand Resort & Casino, an investment worth $562 million.

The series of rejections continues: 

In addition to the rejection mentioned above, another rejection occurred where voters in Manassas Park officially dismissed a referendum that would have allowed Churchill Downs to construct Rosie’s Gaming Emporium in their neighborhood. In this regard, the pro-casino PAC Richmond Wins, Vote Yes released a statement on the night of October 7 regarding the failure of the second Richmond casino referendum: “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.”

However, everything was larger for this do-over, specifically payouts from the aforementioned corporate sponsors of the casino project, Churchill Downs and Urban One, which poured over $10 million into get-out-the-vote and advertising endeavors that involved a free-of-charge concert by the Isley Brothers, in addition to the early voting establishment and “subsidized food truck meals” for voters during October and November.

Controversy has also been heightened, as the pro-casino side has been followed in recent days by reports of racially insensitive and antisemitic speech on Richmond radio stations owned by Urban One.

The gap between “yes” and “no” voters is much wider than in 2021:

Finally, the difference between “no” and “yes” voters was much wider this year, after a small loss of nearly 1,500 voters two years ago, namely in 2021. However, this ongoing year, nearly 78,000 voters officially cast their votes in Richmond, compared to 79,000 two years ago, even though the demographic and geographic distribution of the referendum stayed almost identical. With 72 polling places reporting votes on Election Day, and nearly 17,000 early votes counted, 45,612 residents of Richmond officially voted no and  32,427 voted yes, a margin of 58.45% to 41.55%.

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As for the 2021 referendum, an additional number of voters from the West and North Sides of Richmond, commonly richer and whiter, cast their votes to oppose the said casino referendum, while an additional number of East End and South Side locals, aka Black District primarily, officially voted yes. That split was almost identical this year, but now the South Side and a several others in East End in Richmond contained large numbers of voters who voted yes.

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On that note, casino-supporting Richmond mayor, Levar Stoney, who has expressed his intention to devote a small amount of the casino’s tax income to securing child care in Richmond, commented in a statement according to Virginia Business: “I will continue to be a voice for communities that have been historically overlooked and underserved. I will work for more accessible and affordable child care, for good-paying jobs, and for an abundance of opportunities for ALL Richmonders — no matter their zip code or socioeconomic status.” In addition, previous campaign manager for Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and a crucial casino rival, issued a statement on the night of November 7 that involved a “jab at Stoney”: “The people of Richmond have made the following clear: You can’t build a new city on old resentments. For too long, the politics of Richmond has been controlled by politicians and their allies who put their own self interest before the public interest. Today, the people of Richmond said clearly those days are over. Those who can’t put aside the politics of resentment need to step aside, and I think we all know who they are. Richmond can afford right now to fix our schools, provide affordable day care, achieve equality for all and reduce the tax burden on the citizenry. The losing side tonight said the only way to do that is to fleece the poor. The winning side — a team effort of which I was one of many — said the way to do that is for all of us to work together for the common good. I’d like to think we can start on this new path tomorrow.”

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Layout of the proposed casino:

As for the layout of the proposed casino, it would include a hotel equipped with 250 rooms, a concert space equipped with 3,000 seats and a sound stage where Urban One has promised to put $50 million during a period of 10 years in movie, TV and audio production. Additionally, the supporters of the casino calculated that the entire project would produce 1,300 permanent jobs and raise $30 million in yearly tax income.

Compared to 2021, this time, Urban One joined forces with Churchill Downs Inc., which in 2022 bought the ownership the properties of the former Urban One’s casino ally, Peninsula Pacific Ent. Relatedly, in compliance with the information provided in the firm’s finance reports: “Urban One and Churchill Downs were equal partners in the venture, and the companies spent about four times the amount Urban One spent in 2021.”

As a result, the casino project involved campaign mailers, extensive door knocking, free food and music and TV commercials. Praise 104.7 FM, which is owned by Urban One, formally aired a daily show called “Richmond Grand Update” featuring the president and chairman of Urban One, Cathy Hughes, on a regular basis, who officially promoted the project in conversation with host Gary Flowers. Additionally, during the last weekend prior to the Election Day, supporters of the aforementioned casino project organized parties in public housing districts in Richmond.

What’s more, the owner of the Taste Good Authentic Jamaican Flavor food truck, Lushan Phang, was located in the parking lot of the city registry office on November 1, distributing meals to several patrons. On that note, he commented: “At the end of the day, I would invoice the casino campaign $15 per lunch distributed. It was way busier at the South Side location the previous week, compared to the registrar’s office north of the James River.”

Opponents:

With a financial budget just under $200.000, the aforementioned casino opponents, involving NewMarket Chairman CEO Thomas E. Gottwald and Paul Goldman, the Ukrop family, did everything in their power to make their goal known with yard signs and letters sent to the citizens of Richmond next to a plane which carrying a sign that read: “VOTE NO CASINO … AGAIN”, which flew over the people in attendance at the Richmond Folk Festival that took place last month.

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However, specifically for this 2023 referendum, casino proponents have utilized their big platform and budget to “get out the vote,” but have also made some negative comments aimed at the aforementioned opponents of the casino.

But few reputable organizations and leaders of the aforementioned city have validated the casino project, such as the Metropolitan Business League, previous Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, Richmond Region Tourism, the Richmond NAACP and few local union chapters, which have decided to join the “pro-casino” side, with a main focus on jobs that casino officials say “provide an average of $55,000 in annual compensation — although that was likely to come out to about $16 an hour, depending on health care coverage.”

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