Just before midnight Tuesday, opponents of the One Casino project in South Richmond declared victory. The preliminary results of South Richmond’s casino referendum showed that they had won 2,200 votes. 51.4% of city voters opposed the proposal for a casino, with 71 of 72 precincts reporting. The proposal was opposed by most precincts of Richmond’s West End, North Side and West End. However, South Richmond had the majority of precincts voting in favor.
No Casino Yet For Richmond
Urban One, a media conglomerate that received approval for the casino by the Richmond City Council, was looking for voter approval to construct a $565 million casino and 250-room luxury resort hotel near Interstate 95. Quinton Robbins, the political director at Richmond for All and also the organizer of the anti-casino campaign, said of the results, “I am proud of our organization, and our city. We believe in knocking at doors and talking with our neighbors. It was that which made all the difference.”
Paul Goldman is a Democratic strategist who was also the director of Vote No RVA Casino (a political committee that worked with Richmond for All), and said that the result was unexpected after a recent poll showed that the pro-casino campaign won by a margin of 3-2.
The Richmond casino owners spent $2 million on campaigning for their proposal. They also spent a lot of money on campaign mail, media ads and volunteers promoting its benefits such as 50 million annually in tax revenue for the city, 15 restaurants, a radio and television studio on site and a theater seating 3,000.
The campaign against the project was modest and raised only one-tenth the amount that the campaign spent. They argued that a casino in Richmond would increase poverty and gambling addiction.
Richmond Fails Where Others Succeeded
Richmond’s vote contrasts sharply with the ballot measures passed last year in four other Virginia cities, where referendums were approved by a majority of at least 65%. Before officially certifying the election results, Richmond election officials must verify provisional votes and late-arriving mail ballots.
This ballot measure follows a year of state legislators passing a bill that allowed voters in Richmond and Danville to decide whether or not to allow casinos in their respective communities. With a majority of at least 65%, the other four cities approved ballot measures for a casino last year.
In response to the city’s request for bids, Richmond received six proposals for a casino. The city officials quickly canceled half the projects because they were concerned about site control, financial projections, and lack of operational experience.
The city reviewed proposals for a casino to be located at the Philip Morris industrial location between I-95 & U.S. 1 and the northeast quadrants of the Powhite & Chippenham Parkways in South Richmond. It also evaluated the Movieland property at Boulevard Square on North Arthur Ashe Boulevard, near Scott’s Addition. Residents living near these two projects organized large protests in their neighborhood against the casino proposals. This raised concerns about the quality of life, including traffic congestion, and public safety.
Racism Claims Stop Richmond’s Progress
Opposition from the neighborhood led to criticisms about racism. An anonymous flyer was distributed in majority-white neighborhoods, telling residents to ” build it over there.” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney responded by saying that the flyer, and other comments from people opposing a casino in their neighborhoods, but not in Black-majority areas, smack of racism.
Stoney, along with many other Democratic politicians, rallied behind the Urban One project. However, Stoney highlighted a community benefits agreement which included an immediate payment of $25.5 million to the city if it passes, and projected annual tax revenue for that city.
The Urban One project was ultimately chosen by a panel of city officials, which included two City Council members. They cited the proposed location, potential economic development impact, and community benefits. However, everything has now fallen apart.