Two measures designed to expand gambling in the Commonwealth of Virginia were voted down during Tuesday’s election. One referendum was a replay from 2021 for a casino in the state’s capital.
Richmond Grand Vote
For the second time, voters in Virginia's capital city rejected the idea of building a $562 million casino resort in Richmond along Interstate 95 in the Southside. The resort project was proposed by a partnership between media company Urban One and Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI). CDI is known for its annual Kentucky Derby horse racing event.
A second referendum for a casino in Richmond was defeated during Tuesday’s General Election with 61% voting against it, and 38% approving of it.
The idea of building a casino in Richmond was first put up for vote in 2021 — the same year Virginia sports betting was legalized. Richmond residents said no to the 2021 casino referendum with 51.4% voting against it, while 48.6% approved it, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Officials from the Richmond Grand Resort and Casino admitted defeat in the election just over two hours after polling locations closed at 7 p.m.
“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,” Richmond Grand officials said in a statement. “We are grateful to the thousands of Richmonders who voted for good jobs and a stronger city, especially those in Southside who poured their hearts into this project.”
Developers Urban One and Churchill Downs invested some $10 million into a pro-casino campaign to support the project. There are no legal Virginia online casinos — casino games that can be played on a phone or other mobile device.
The campaign faced strong and organized opposition efforts from No Means No Casino PAC, a group organized by Paul Goldman. Goldman was the campaign manager for former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder. In advance of the voters going to the polls Tuesday, Goldman said, “If the referendum fails again as it should, then they will do what they did the last time, play the victim of what they said the last time.”
Goldman said the city mayor, Urban One, Churchill Downs, and the whole pro-Casino side “seem oblivious to the damage they have done to Richmond.” Goldman continued, “For the love of money, for personal gain, they are willing to turn their casino project into a wedge of division, to attempt to win by a divisive strategy serving only their selfish interests.”
Five cities in Virginia were approved to develop casinos based on legislation passed in 2020. Three of the five cities have casinos open and operating today. Hard Rock Bristol Casino opened a temporary facility in July 2022, Rivers Casino Portsmouth opened in January 2023 and Caesars Virginia’s temporary Danville Casino — which will have a Caesars Sportsbook Virginia retail location — opened in May 2023.
Proposed Reston Casino
With Richmond out of the picture for a future casino, one Democratic State Senator re-elected during Tuesday’s election, David Marsden, has plans to introduce a bill next year to build a casino in Reston, Va. Marsden submitted his casino bill to the Virginia General Assembly in January this year but withdrew it just days later.
Marsden's bill, SB 1543, and Republican Del. Wren Williams’ bill, HB 2499, seek to change the Code of Virginia so a casino could be built in “any county with a population greater than one million according to the 2021 population estimates.”
In January, Marsden told the Washington Business Journal that the proposal didn’t have much of a chance and added: “It’s just too rushed, and so I’m probably going to have to talk to the individuals who approached me about it.”
Months later, in September, the Patch newspaper revealed leading real estate developer Comstock Companies was putting together a plan to build a casino near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Train Station. In September and October, Comstock hosted fundraisers in Reston for Senator Scott Surovell, Del. Don Scott and Senator Marsden. These could be the key players to get a bill passed next year.
Rosie’s Gaming Emporium Defeated in Manassas Park
Manassas Park voters rejected a pari-mutuel referendum during Tuesday’s election that would have brought a Rosie’s Gaming Emporium to the Virginia city.
The vote on Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, owned by the same Churchill Downs that partnered with Urban One for the Richmond casino, saw residents reject the idea with 58% NO compared to 41% YES.
Speaking about the strong local support for the petition effort and the upcoming election, CDI Chief Executive Officer Bill Carstanjen stated, “Rosie’s is all about fun with a stage for live band performances, a terrific menu, an opportunity to watch a game or the horses run anywhere in the country, and yes — pari-mutuel gaming.”
Launched in 2019, Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums have found tremendous success already in Dumfries, Richmond, Hampton, Vinton, Collinsville, New Kent and Emporia. Churchill Downs estimated the new betting facility would have brought 150 new jobs and generate about $1.5 million in tax revenue for Manassas Park.