Failed Richmond Casino Referendum Campaign Spent Over $400 Per Vote

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This week’s failed Richmond casino referendum pushed by Urban One in partnership with Churchill Downs was a costly defeat for the would-be developers, who spent heavily on the campaign.

The Richmond casino vote was more strongly opposed in 2023 than a similar gaming referendum was in 2021. The would-be developers of the Richmond Grand Resort & Casino spent more than $10 million on the failed gaming push. (Image: Virginia Public Access Project)

For the second time in three years, Richmonders were asked by their City Council and Mayor Levar Stoney (D) to authorize a Las Vegas-style casino. And, for a second time in three years, city voters told their local leaders “no.”

The 2021 gaming referendum was narrowly defeated by a 51%-49% outcome, with less than 1,500 votes being the difference.

Urban One, the media conglomerate that runs radio stations and television networks tailored to the Black community, was selected by Richmond officials as the city’s preferred casino developer despite lacking any sort of relevant experience. Urban One believed a more coordinated campaign touting the economic benefits such a resort would bring would tip the 2023 vote in its favor. It did not.

Costly Defeat

Urban One and Churchill Downs collectively spent $10,684,473.30 on their “Richmond Wins, Vote Yes” political action committee (PAC). The money was spent running commercials and social media adverts promoting why Richmond residents should vote “yes” on November 7 for the $562 million Richmond Grand Resort & Casino.

The backers said the resort would deliver thousands of good-paying jobs to Richmond’s Southside where an economic resurgence is desperately needed. Stoney pledged to use the city’s tax income from the resort, projected at $30 million per year, to better fund early childhood programs.

Polling suggested that Richmond’s 2023 gaming referendum would be as close as the 2021 outcome. But a series of controversial comments from the casino’s supporters about their opposition fueled strong voter turnout in the more affluent neighborhoods that opposed the casino two years ago.

Urban One’s 2023 casino pitch was more strongly rejected, with the project garnering less than 39% of the vote. The casino support tally of 24,765 votes equates to Urban One and Churchill spending about $431 in campaign dollars per vote.

Meanwhile, the opposition, “No Means No Casino” PAC, spent just shy of $400K or about 10 bucks per vote.

Racial Divide

Urban One founder Cathy Hughes levied racial accusations against her casino opponents during a radio interview in the leadup to Election Day. The media mogul said those who oppose the project, even if they are Black, more closely align with white people.

Though you may have a house like theirs, a car like theirs, and your children go to the same schools, they see you as a n*****,” Hughes said.

Richmond’s wealthier neighborhoods, primarily those west of I-95 and north of the James River like The Fan District and Scott’s Addition, greatly opposed the casino. Of the 1,161 votes cast in The Fan precinct, just 156 votes were cast in support of the Richmond Grand.

In 2023, it wasn’t only the more affluent communities that opposed the casino question. Of the 72 precincts in Richmond, just 20 voted in favor of the gaming initiative.

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