Voters in Richmond, Virginia will be deciding whether to allow developers to proceed with a proposed $562 million resort casino along Interstate 95. This is the second time the ballot measure will be presented to Richmond voters, after it was narrowly rejected two years ago.
The developers have returned with a retooled proposal and have invested around $10 million into a pro-casino campaign to build support for the project. The mayor, Levar Stoney, and major area business groups are backing the casino.
However, the proposal also faced opposition from a lesser-funded but organized effort. Critics have highlighted the fact that the city already rejected the casino once before.
The project, known as the Richmond Grand Resort and Casino, would be located on the same former tobacco company site that was identified in the first proposal. It is a joint venture between Urban One, a media company, and Churchill Downs, the operator of the Kentucky Derby. The casino could also include local investors if the referendum passes.
The plans for the casino include various gambling options such as slots, an on-site sportsbook, and table games. It will also feature a 250-room hotel, a 55-acre outdoor park, dining options, and a 3,000-seat concert venue.
Boosters of the casino estimate that it will create 1,300 permanent jobs, and developers are promising significant financial benefits. If the referendum passes, the developers have agreed to make a one-time upfront payment of $25.5 million to the city, with an additional $1 million after financing closes. They are also pledging $16 million in charitable donations over 10 years and anticipate annual tax revenue of $30 million.
The developers have stated that they are not seeking any publicly funded incentives or tax breaks. Some of the revenue generated from the casino is expected to be used for promoting affordable child care.
The project has garnered support from business and labor organizations, faith leaders, civil rights groups, and the editorial board of a local newspaper focused on the Black community.
On the other hand, opponents of the casino have raised concerns about wealth extraction from the working class and the potential for increased problem gambling.
In a controversial moment during the campaign, the developers had to apologize to a leading project opponent, Paul Goldman, after a radio host on an Urban One station made antisemitic remarks about him.
If the casino is approved, it would be the fifth casino in Virginia. Three have already opened in Bristol, Portsmouth, and Danville, with a fourth slowly moving forward in Norfolk. In 2020, Virginia politicians passed legislation allowing for the construction of five casinos in the state, but only after receiving voter approval. The supporters argue that the casinos would provide a much-needed economic boost to struggling areas.