The failed ballot measure for a Richmond casino ended up spending $400 per vote in a record-breaking $10 million outreach campaign. Residents in the city referendum voted down the $562 million casino plans by a 6-to-1 margin. The Richmond Grand Casino and Resort was marketed as a way to bring jobs, economic development, and tax revenue to the city’s South Side. However, opponents argued that the project would exploit residents and that the selection process was flawed.
The developers, Urban One and Churchill Downs, poured significant resources into advertising and ground-level efforts in South Side, which included door-knocking, free rides to the polls, free lunch tickets, and a 3,000-seat Isley Brothers concert. Despite this, an executive with the Urban One radio network had to apologize for antisemitic comments made on air by a host about a critic of the casino project.
Paul Goldman, who ran the political action committee against the project, stated, “The people of Richmond have made the following clear: you can’t build a new city on old resentments.” The vote results revealed that the project was supported by voters in the Eighth and Ninth City Council Districts, where it would have been located. However, the turnout in those areas was low.
The First and Second Council Districts, which include the Fan and Museum District, delivered the largest percentage of no votes. They comprised around 11,200 opposition votes, with an average of 81% in opposition. In contrast to the previous referendum, the North Side and East End districts also rallied against the project.
Political science professor Thad Williamson suggested that people were put off by the offensive comments and the high cost associated with the campaign. Despite spending $8 million more than the first referendum, the developers failed to maintain support in key precincts.
The developers’ political action committee said they accepted defeat after voters failed to support the casino project for a second time. It’s unclear whether the developers plan to pursue the casino project further. The casino industry’s future in Richmond remains uncertain.