RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Voters in Virginia’s capital city are deciding Tuesday whether developers can move forward with a proposed $562 million resort casino along Interstate 95.
A ballot measure on whether to allow the gambling and entertainment complex is before Richmond voters for a second time, after the city narrowly rejected the proposal two years ago.
The developers returned with a retooled proposal and invested around $10 million into a pro-casino campaign aimed at building support for the project, which has the backing of Mayor Levar Stoney and major area business groups.
The proposal also faced a lesser-funded but organized opposition effort. Many of the anti-casino signs that dotted the city in recent weeks have emphasized the fact that the city already said “no” once before.
The project — this time branded the Richmond Grand Resort and Casino — would be located on the same former tobacco company site just off I-95 in south Richmond that was identified in the first proposal. It’s a joint venture between Urban One, a media company, and Churchill Downs, the Louisville-based operator of the Kentucky Derby that also runs gambling establishments across the country. It could also include local investors if the referendum passes.
Plans call for gambling options including slots, an on-site sportsbook and table games; a 250-room hotel; a 55-acre (22-hectare) outdoor park; dining options; and a 3,000-seat concert venue.
Boosters estimate the casino will deliver 1,300 permanent jobs, and developers are promising big financial benefits.
An agreement with the city calls for a one-time upfront $25.5 million payment if the referendum passes, with another $1 million after financing closes. The developers are also pledging $16 million in charitable donations over 10 years and expect the project will result in $30 million in annual tax revenue.
The developers have said they are not seeking any publicly funded incentives or tax breaks, and city officials have said some of the revenue would be used to help promote affordable child care.
The project has garnered support from business and labor organizations, some of the city’s faith leaders, leading civil rights groups and the editorial board of Richmond’s independent weekly newspaper focused on the Black community.
“We will be sprinting through the finish line on Election Day with a team of more than 250 canvassers knocking doors, making calls, and advocating for the good jobs and community investment that Richmond Grand will deliver,” said Tierra Ward, campaign manager for the pro-casino political committee Richmond Wins Vote Yes.
Opponents have raised an array of concerns, including an argument that casinos will extract wealth from the working class and exacerbate problem gambling.
In the waning days of the campaign, the developers had to apologize to a leading project opponent, longtime Democratic Party activist Paul Goldman, after a radio host on an Urban One station made widely condemned antisemitic remarks about Goldman.
“People are realizing they have no respect for the people of Richmond. They’re just coming in here, trashing us hoping to make money, and then they’re going to leave,” Goldman said Monday of the would-be developers.
In 2020, Virginia politicians opened the door to casinos by approving legislation allowing five to be built around the state if the projects first secured voter approval. Supporters argued the casinos would give a dramatic economic boost to struggling areas.
Three have opened so far — in Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville, all relatively near the state line with North Carolina. A fourth is slowly moving forward in Norfolk.