Richmond childcare loses $26.5 million after casino vote fails

Richmond Casinos Battle Moves to Childcare Funding After Voters Reject Plan

The upcoming $562 million Richmond Grand Casino and Resort appeared to promise high revenue and thousands of jobs in the Richmond area. Pollsters projected that the casino would also fund urgently needed childcare services for the city. However, the reelection results show that Richmond’s voters have rejected the contentious casino proposal for the second time. Concerns about the overdue child care funding loom. “The $19 million a year could have funded wraparound care for all Head Start and Virginia Preschool Initiative in the city,” said Ann Payes, CEO of the Richmond early childhood school readiness group Thrive Birth to Five. “Without that, it’s just going to be a struggle to get enough funding so that it’s accessible and affordable for families.”

Under the development agreement, casino developers Urban One and Churchill Downs were to direct a one-time upfront payment of $26.5 million to municipal coffers. An additional $19 million in casino revenue would go to the city each year after that. Mayor Levar Stoney said that the money was intended to construct child care and education centers at T.B. Smith and Southside community centers.

After the crushing defeat of the casino referendum, the future of child care funding becomes uncertain. The Tuesday vote marked the outcome of a two-year-long battle between casino developers and a persistent opposition balking at the contentious casino plan. The developers aggressively advertised the benefits of their project and spent $10 million on a get-out-the-vote effort. However, plans for casinos in economically distressed areas were opposed on the grounds of the risks and downsides associated with gambling.

According to the mayor’s office, the Tuesday election effectively halted the proposed child care projects. Richmond Mayor Stoney has invested substantial political capital in the casino proposal and is now left scrambling for alternative funds to address the city’s child care shortage. Plans to establish a Child Care Trust Fund are now severed, and any expectation of new child care centers coming to fruition remains low.

While the immediate future looks grim, the city is turning to alternative funding options from state and federal governments. The city is in the process of filing stabilization grants and allocating funds to early childhood specialists. The hope is to maintain concentration and intentionality about early childhood care while slowly pursuing alternative means of funding. Child care officials advocate for other local governments and organizations to contribute to such initiatives, instituting funds for child care reform as they seek to mitigate the funding crisis resulting in the wake of the cancellation of the casino project.