Richmond’s Casino Plans Fail in Second Referendum

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Richmond’s Casino Plans Fail in Second Referendum 2

Despite extensive efforts to sway voters, the pro-casino lobby in Virginia’s capital admitted defeat in the recent referendum. Their aim was simple: to help residents benefit from a casino project, much like other areas in the United States have benefited from the legalization of leading online sportsbooks and the best online casinos in recent years. Following this second setback, officials in Richmond were left feeling disheartened. The neighboring city of Petersburg is likely to relaunch its bid to fill in as one of the designated casino hosts in Virginia.

The “Richmond Wins, Vote Yes” Campaign

Voters in Virginia’s capital rejected the casino proposal in a referendum held in early November for the second time in three years. The opposing team won the referendum with 58% of the vote to the proposers’ 42%. Although the margin looks narrow, it was much larger than the similarly geared 2021 gaming referendum. Conceding defeat, the  pro-casino committee stated the following:

“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.”

It was a humbling defeat for the “Richmond Wins, Vote Yes” campaign, led by some of the city’s well-renowned leaders and casino developers. On the contrary, it was an uplifting moment for the opposition team. Paul Goldman, an activist and one of its leaders, disregarded the casino campaign, saying it was like trying to establish a new city on an unstable foundation based on the wrong politics.

The Arguments and Counterarguments

Although fair and honest, the vote resulted in significant anguish for the losing team, which included Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. Stoney was among those who believed in the potential of the $562 million integrated gaming and entertainment complex to create opportunities for Richmond locals. It would have been notably beneficial to the city’s south side.

Stoney stated, “I will continue to be a voice for communities that have historically been overlooked and underserved. I will advocate for more accessible and inexpensive child care, well-paying jobs, and abundant possibilities for all Richmond residents, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic background.”

It was nearly as devastating for the rest of the pro-casino crew, who had committed $10 million to the campaign. Despite losing the 2021 referendum with 49% of the vote to the opponents’ 51%, the team had reimagined its objectives and budgets. It failed twice despite the opposition’s need for more financial resources. Opponents simply had a better philosophy, effectively raising worries about wealth extraction and problem gambling. The proposing team also expressed concern that the repeated vote downs would have long-term consequences, particularly in finding a legal way to bring the potentially transformative casino idea back to life.

Petersburg’s Reignited Aspirations

Almost immediately following the defeat of the Richmond casino referendum, the Petersburg City Council voted to restart its fight for legitimacy by organizing a similar casino referendum. Retrospectively, Richmond was among the cities chosen for casino developments. It was permitted under Virginia legislation, which was passed in 2020. Danville, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Bristol are among the other cities covered by the law, all of which have approved the casino development project. On the contrary, the law does not cover Petersburg. Still, it may have a perfect opportunity to pursue its gaming goals now that Richmond has given up on this opportunity.

The 2020 statute can still be revised to include Petersburg among the qualifying cities. As a result, Petersburg legislators can begin drafting a casino bill and start the bidding process. According to the City Council, Petersburg can benefit significantly from a casino project because it is a troubled community. Allowing it to submit a casino referendum to its citizens can go a long way toward bringing development to the city. The city is a perfect fit for casino development for the same rationale Virginia’s five selected cities used while passing the 2020 gaming bill. The casino might provide benefits such as increased employment and quick tax revenue if approved and built. 

Recap

Opponents of the casino referendum in Virginia’s capital are understandably skeptical, considering the potential problems it could bring to the city if the required regulatory frameworks are not in place. Conversely, states like Kentucky have demonstrated that a legalized and well-regulated gaming environment with stringent regulations can curb problem gambling. This vote down could result in a significant economic loss for the city’s residents and a squandered opportunity.