Richmond Mayor Says Failed Casino Axed Childcare Plans, Will Raise Taxes

Written By Hill Kerby on November 15, 2023
Photo of Richmond Mayor Levan Stoney on a story about taxes being raised because of a failed casino initiative in the city.

Supporters of the Richmond casino referendum found themselves with only pieces to pick up from their failed efforts after 61% of voters shot down the idea of building Virginia’s fifth casino on the city’s south side.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney was among the most vocal supporters, advocating for the opportunities it would afford the city and Southside community. 

Stoney most notably championed that a casino would create 1,300 new jobs and bring the city more than $30 million annually. He planned to allocate most of that money to early childhood programs, an area lacking funding and resources citywide and one he’s focused on since becoming mayor in 2017.

With that funding no longer in the picture, Stoney has now warned residents those funds would have to come from other places, which will increase taxes and reduce funding of other governmental programs.

Plans to fund childcare services shot down

While online casinos in Virginia remain illegal, Richmonders had a chance to bring retail casino gambling to their city. Voters ultimately felt the $562 million Richmond Grand Resort & Casino proposal was insufficient and soundly defeated it at the polls.

Leading up to the Nov. 7 election, Stoney expressed his desire to allocate $26.5 million to build two new childcare centers and an additional $19 million annually to create the Richmond Childcare and Education Trust Fund, intended to shore up resources for future efforts and initiatives.

Stoney acknowledged in a September news conference that many families were struggling to access early care and education for their children. Several local childcare officials spoke at that conference, including Ann Payes, CEO of the local school readiness group Thrive Birth to Five.

“The $19 million a year could have funded wrap-around care for all Head Start and Virginia Preschool Initiative in the city, and we could have funded additional toddler and infant care. So, without that, it’s just going to be a struggle to get enough funding so that it’s accessible and affordable for families.”

After the referendum failed, Stoney confirmed that the childcare plans tied to its passage were effectively killed. 

City will now explore every other angle to address childcare issues

Stoney expressed his dissatisfaction with voters’ rejection of the proposal.

“When Richmond voted No for the casino, they also voted No for $26.5 million upfront to build two new childcare centers and $19 million annually to establish the Richmond Childcare and Education Trust Fund. We are back to where we were prior to this opportunity.”

Stoney’s spokesperson, Gianni Snidle, said the mayor will continue his efforts to address Richmond’s childcare problems. In September, Stoney said the city could reallocate its current revenues and raise taxes if the referendum failed.

Raising taxes could be avoidable, though. Snidle added more recently that the city hopes to obtain state and federal funding in lieu of raising taxes.

Future hope remains for a Richmond casino

Stoney and many others, including the proposed developer, RVA Entertainment Holdings, were hopeful that Richmonders would support the 2023 casino referendum. It was the city’s and RVA’s – a joint venture between Urban One and Churchill Downs – second chance at bringing a casino to town after the first referendum lost by 1,200 votes in 2021.

Leading up to the election, polls showed split support at nearly 50-50, but voters ultimately said they were less impressed this time around. The 2023 proposal was more or less identical to the failed one from 2021. The referendum’s 38.38% support never stood a chance.

Despite failing twice, supporters should keep hope of having a future casino in Richmond. Commonwealth law allows for unlimited chances at passing casino referendums. That leaves the door open for a new and improved proposal to win over voters.

That said, the city needs to find a new and improved proposal to achieve a different result. It wouldn’t hurt if that proposal came from another developer, either.

Additional momentum will grow as Virginia’s retail casino industry matures, too. HR Bristol and Caesars Casino Danville will open permanent facilities next year, joining Rivers Casino Portsmouth to offer resort-style amenities.

At worst, these conditions will create the opportunity for more demand in Richmond. At best, they also set the table for gambling expansion in the state. Richmond will be a part of that expansion one day … it’s just a matter of when.

Photo by Bryan Woolston/AP
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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing.

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