We’re just days away from what could be the final chapter in a long saga to bring a casino to Richmond, Virginia.
On Nov. 7, Richmond voters will head to the ballot box to decide if they want a casino in the state’s capital. It will be the second time that the city’s residents vote on a casino.
The first vote, which took place in 2021, failed by a slim margin of 51% to 49%.
How did Richmond arrive at Tuesday’s vote?
Virginia law allows five cities to have a casino: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Richmond. Lawmakers selected the cities based on several criteria, including those facing economic challenges.
However, before those cities could build a casino, their voters had to approve it. And, in four cities, voters approved casinos. But not Richmond. In 2021, the vote to approve a casino failed 51% to 49%.
The vote was a failure for Urban One, the developer pitching the city’s first casino. In retrospect, Urban One realized it didn’t do enough to involve Richmond communities in discussions about the casino.
The failed vote had a key consequence: Petersburg, a city south of Richmond, pushed state lawmakers to let them vote on a casino since Richmond couldn’t get it done. Political wrangling ensued, and in the end, lawmakers shot down Petersburg’s casino bid and allowed Richmond to have a second vote.
Casino developers hope new approach to community involvement will work
Leading up to next week’s vote, Urban One and partner Churchill Downs International held community conversations with Richmond residents regarding Richmond Grand Resort and Casino, the name of the proposed casino development.
For example, in late September, the two developers held a town hall-style meeting in northern Richmond. They provided attendees with details about the project, including costs and economic impact.
Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins told local media that the meeting structure and purpose were built around the idea that, leading up to the 2021 vote, Urban One didn’t do enough work to help people be informed “about what the project actually is.”
The developers believe that their new approach could garner enough support to flip the razor-thin margin by which Urban One lost in 2021.
In addition to holding community meetings, the developers have poured more than $8 million into their campaign, making the 2023 referendum vote the costliest in the state’s history, according to an article by political watchdog Open Secrets.
The polls don’t look good for Richmond Grand Resort and Casino
This week, local ABC 8 News reported that a recent poll conducted by co/efficient indicated the referendum would fail again. Of the 914 poll respondents, 52% said they would vote no, while 49% said they would vote yes.
Those numbers are a bad omen for Urban One and Churchill Downs International, as they represent a downward trend from a co/efficient poll taken in September in which the vote was split 44% to 44%.
White conservatives driving opposition to another Virginia casino
Co/efficient’s September poll provided a breakdown of voters by several factors such as ideology, race, age, education, genre, and ZIP code.
The polling firm’s data revealed disparities along racial, ideological, and educational lines. For example, conservatives were against the casino by a 63%-20% split. Residents who were white opposed the casino at a rate of 59% to 31%. Those with college degrees opposed the casino by a rate of 79% to 21%.
And while conservatives were overwhelmingly opposed to casinos, liberals were against it, too, at a 51% to 42% clip.
Said another way, the biggest margins were found in:
- College graduates: No by 51 percentage points
- High school grads: Yes by 48 percentage points
- Voters who are Black: Yes by 45 percentage points
- Conservatives: No by 43 percentage points
- Voters who are white: No by 28 percentage points
The voter splits are a key metric, as the 2021 vote failed by roughly 1,500. At the time, voting data revealed the same racial splits that the September poll showed.
“The more white voters in a given city precinct, the more no votes the project received,” an Axios Richmond article from this past September noted. “Meanwhile, majority-Black neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity of the project overwhelmingly supported the proposal.”
What’s ahead for Richmond
If the vote breaks the developer’s way, an influx of economic development will flood the city. First, the developers will provide a $26.5 million investment to the City of Richmond.
The completed casino will provide around 1,300 permanent jobs with an average salary of $55,000. Additionally, estimates hold the casino will generate $30 million in annual tax revenue for the state.
The property will feature a 250-room luxury hotel, a 55-acre park, and a 3,000-seat concert space.
However, if voters reject a new casino, Richmond may not see a casino for a long time.
City leaders in Petersburg will likely push to go on the state’s list of casino locations. A vote would likely come in 2025, giving stakeholders two years to drum up support and apply lessons from developers’ mistakes in Richmond.