Richmond Casino Referendum Defeated Soundly On Election Day

Written By Hill Kerby on November 8, 2023
Photo of a woman with two thumbs down on a rendering of a proposed casino in Richmond on a story about voters rejecting that proposal on Election Day.

Richmond never had a chance at getting a casino.

That’s the story the numbers told after 61.6% of Richmonders voted Tuesday to reject a proposal to construct a new Virginia casino in the state capital. It was the second time Richmond voters rejected such a referendum, narrowly defeating the first attempt in November 2021.

Leading up to the vote, polling data predicted another close race. However, casino support never materialized, and the referendum suffered a message-sending beatdown.

  • No votes: 39,768 (61.62%)
  • Yes votes: 24,765 (38.38%) 

Nearly $10M in campaign spending all for naught

Richmond was one of five prospective host cities chosen in April 2020 when Virginia legalized retail casino gambling. It remains illegal outside the five cities, and Virginia online casinos are prohibited statewide.

After the 2021 Richmond casino proposal lost by less than 1,500 votes (40,243 against; 38,750 in support), developer RVA Entertainment Holdings received approval in July from the Virginia Lottery and Richmond Circuit Court to put a new proposal on the 2023 ballot.

RVA, a joint venture between Urban One and Churchill Downs, spent more than $9 million on campaigning, including $1 million in the week leading up to the election. To put that number in perspective, its opposition spent less than $350,000 in the same timeframe. 

Before the election, polls predicted the outcome would be within 2%.

How did the referendum fail by so much?

RVA’s proposal gained the support of Mayor Levar Stoney even though the company never formally announced any changes to its original plans in the new proposal. The most significant change came in verbiage, using the term “destination resort” to describe the property.

In hindsight, RVA misunderstood why voters rejected the proposal two years ago. They should have explored what aspects of the first proposal voters preferred the least. Then, put together a new casino project proposal based on those results.

Some voters were obviously annoyed at not being heard the first time.

Throwing more money at what voters felt was an inferior proposal did not change the outcome. The election results backed that up.

The opposition was roughly the same when comparing the 2021 and 2023 referendums (40.2 thousand and 39.8 thousand, respectively). 

Reduced support was the difference: The 2021 referendum got 38.8 thousand Yes votes, while 2023’s received only 24.8 thousand. That’s 14,000 fewer voters who supported the casino proposal this time around.

Developer concedes, mayor vows to continue to try to close wealth gap

When the polls closed, the developers conceded defeat once more.

The backing group, Richmond Wins, Vote Yes, published a statement on X.

“We are proud to have run 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.”

Stoney, a vocal casino supporter, shared his beliefs before the election that it would bring additional opportunities to address equity and community wealth gaps. 

After the referendum failed, Stoney said his work continues.

“I will continue to be a voice for communities that have been historically overlooked and underserved. 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.”

Casino opponents celebrate win, bash city officials

Paul Goldman, leader of the opposing campaign, No Means No Casino, spoke in celebration of the results on Tuesday night.

“They came out and voted for the future of the city. They rejected the politics of the past. They want a path for the future. This is great. We got a coalition. We got an election coming next year. Let’s build a team that wants to build and move the city forward in a positive way.”

Another casino opponent, Victoria Cobb, head of the Richmond Anti-Corruption League and president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, took her comments one step further.

“Richmond City officials should be embarrassed that they didn’t listen to the voters the first time. Hopefully, the message sent tonight by voters will send the casino industry packing, never to return.”

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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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