Whatever the failings were in 2021 in trying to convince Richmond voters to approve a casino in the city, this time around, casino proponents are trying to make sure they line up as much support as possible and make arguments that resonate with the electorate.
Richmond is going to the polls Nov. 7 — early voting has already started — and a casino in the city will be on the ballot again. Virginia sports betting has been legal since January 2021. Three years ago, a local vote to allow a casino in Richmond went against the gambling hall by a slim margin, about 1,500 votes, or about two percentage points. After that, nearby Petersburg made a bid to corral a casino for that area of Virginia, but was thwarted by the state legislature.
Now, Richmond wants a second bite of the casino apple. A gambling hall in Richmond would be the fourth or fifth in the commonwealth. Already, there are operating casinos in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth, and one is planned for Norfolk. The casino in Bristol features a Hard Rock Bet Virginia retail location.
Casino Advocates Have Raised Nearly $10 Million
While national attention is on the 2024 election, this year’s November election in Virginia will have more focus than an average off-year election.
Casino advocates have already amassed more than $9 million for the effort to convince voters, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project. The two corporate entities who are partners in the proposed casino project are Urban One, which was part of the last effort in 2021, and Churchill Downs, Inc., most prominent for horse racing including the Kentucky Derby. Each of those companies has put more than $4 million into the push for the casino.
Although sports betting and retail casinos are legal, Virginia online casinos — casino-style gaming conducted on mobile devices — is not.
In addition to the corporate spending, the casino is getting considerable tailwinds from community and faith leaders in Richmond. Recently, the casino — prospectively named Richmond Grand Resort & Casino — noted public support from a dozen faith leaders across Richmond. The religious coalition signed a letter urging voters to approve the casino.
The letter read: “This fall, we can vote for economic empowerment, community investment, and family-sustaining jobs for more of our fellow Richmonders. We urge all Richmond residents to embrace this opportunity by voting YES for Richmond Grand. We believe the proposed Richmond Grand will give more Richmonders an opportunity for a great job, deliver real investment in communities that are too often forgotten, and help create a stronger, safer city.”
Richmond NAACP Supports Bill
This follows a slew of other endorsements including from the Richmond Branch NAACP, Virginia State Conference NAACP, Richmond Crusade for Voters, ChamberRVA, Richmond Region Tourism, The Metropolitan Business League, UNITE HERE, Richmond Building and Construction Trades Council, and other local unions.
There is some opposition in the form of an organization called No Means No Casino. However, that group has only a fraction of the money to mount a counter campaign, around $200,000, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Richmond mayor Levar Stoney has suggested a substantial amount of casino tax revenue should fund early childhood education, an idea that may resonate favorably with Richmond voters. Developers say the casino would create 1,300 permanent jobs. The Richmond Grand would be located in South Richmond, just off Interstate 95. Renderings of the $562 million project show gleaming towers, sumptuous interiors, surrounding green space, and even pickle ball courts.