Richmond, Va., voters decisively reject casino in second referendum

After $10 million campaign, Churchill Downs and media company Urban One concede defeat

By: - November 8, 2023 1:11 pm

Signs for and against the proposed Richmond Grand casino at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Richmond City, Va., November 7, 2023. Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce

The second time was not the charm for developers’ dreams of building a casino in Richmond, Virginia.

City voters appeared to have decisively rejected the idea in a referendum Tuesday, with more than 60% of votes cast opposing the measure at the time the Richmond Grand Resort & Casino’s backers declared defeat.

Two hours after the polls closed, the Richmond Wins, Vote Yes PAC jointly funded by casino developers Churchill Downs and Urban One conceded defeat in a statement that described their $10 million effort as “a community-centered campaign to create more opportunities for residents of this great city to rise into the middle class.”

“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,” the PAC wrote.

Tuesday night’s results presented a far clearer rejection of the casino than a 2021 referendum that saw voters split 51% to 49% against the proposal and represented a blow for Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a vocal cheerleader of the project.

“I will continue to be a voice for communities that have been historically overlooked and underserved,” said Stoney in a statement Tuesday. “I will work for more accessible and affordable child care, for good paying jobs, and for an abundance of opportunities for ALL Richmonders – no matter their zip code or socioeconomic status.”

Virginia’s General Assembly in 2020 allowed five cities around the state to hold referenda on casino gaming. Four of them — Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth — have approved the establishments with little fanfare, but the issue has remained deeply controversial in Richmond. There, debates have emphasized the split among the city’s whiter neighborhoods, which have largely opposed the casino, and those with greater concentrations of Black people, particularly in Southside, which have shown more support for the idea.

Those tensions came to a head Friday when anti-casino group No Means No released a series of audio clips from local radio programs geared toward Black audiences that contained racially inflammatory remarks made by Urban One founder Cathy Hughes, one of the main backers of the project, and other Black casino proponents.

One radio host, who was fired Friday over his comments, accused casino opponent and Jewish lawyer Paul Goldman of being “a white Jew with a background of Judas.” In numerous other clips, Hughes implied that opposition to the casino was driven by racism, repeatedly using an offensive slur to refer to Black people and telling listeners, “Do not forget that they do not see you as a human being.”

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah Vogelsong is editor-in-chief of the Virginia Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.

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