Voters in Virginia’s capital city, Richmond, are currently deciding whether to give the green light to a proposed $562 million resort casino along Interstate 95. This marks the second time that residents are being asked to vote on the issue, after the initial proposal was narrowly rejected two years ago. Developers have come back with a reworked proposal and have invested approximately $10 million in a campaign to rally support for the project, which has garnered the backing of Mayor Levar Stoney and major local business groups.
However, the proposal has faced opposition from a smaller but well-organized group. Many anti-casino signs around the city have highlighted the fact that Richmond had already rejected the idea once before. The project, now named the Richmond Grand Resort and Casino, would be situated on the same former tobacco company site that was identified in the first proposal. It is a joint venture between media company Urban One and Churchill Downs, the operator of the Kentucky Derby and several other gambling establishments across the country. If the referendum passes, local investors may also become involved.
The plans for the resort and casino include various gambling options such as slots, a sportsbook, and table games, as well as a 250-room hotel, a 55-acre outdoor park, dining establishments, and a 3,000-seat concert venue. Supporters of the project estimate that it will create 1,300 permanent jobs and bring substantial financial benefits to the region.
Under the agreement with the city, developers would make a one-time $25.5 million upfront payment if the referendum is approved, followed by an additional $1 million after financing is secured. They also pledge to donate $16 million to charitable causes over a 10-year period and expect the project to generate $30 million in annual tax revenue. The developers have stated that they are not seeking any publicly funded incentives or tax breaks, and some of the revenue would be used to support affordable child care, according to city officials.
The project has received support from various business and labor organizations, as well as faith leaders, leading civil rights groups, and the editorial board of a local weekly newspaper focused on the Black community. Tierra Ward, campaign manager for the pro-casino political committee Richmond Wins Vote Yes, expressed confidence in their campaign, which involves more than 250 canvassers advocating for the project.
Opponents of the casino have raised concerns, including the argument that it may exploit the working class and worsen problem gambling issues. In the final days leading up to the election, the developers were compelled to apologize to Democratic Party activist Paul Goldman, a prominent project opponent, after a radio host on an Urban One station made widely condemned antisemitic remarks about him. Goldman criticized the developers, accusing them of disrespecting the people of Richmond and viewing their project as a means to make money before leaving the city.
In 2020, Virginia politicians passed legislation allowing for the construction of five casinos around the state, subject to voter approval. So far, three have opened in Bristol, Portsmouth, and Danville, all located near the state line with North Carolina, while a fourth is in progress in Norfolk. Proponents of the casinos argue that they will provide a significant economic boost to struggling areas.