Richmond votes against proposed casino and resort, 51.44% vote no

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Katharine DeRosa, News Editor

Mae Oetjens, Contributing Writer

Richmond voters have rejected the Casino Authorization Referendum, which proposed construction of the ONE Casino and Resort. The referendum was on the Richmond City ballots to vote on during Tuesday’s general election.

The referendum was rejected by 51.44% of Richmond voters opposing the casino, with 48.56% of voters in support of the casino as of 1:20 a.m. on Wednesday.

Most voters in the Southside voted for the casino while voters in the West End and North Side of Richmond voted no. 

The ONE Casino site would have been on land currently owned by the Philip Morris USA, a tobacco company based in Richmond, at Commerce Road and Walmsley Boulevard, according to rva.gov. 

Mark Hubbard, spokesperson for the ONE Casino and Resort, said the failed referendum will be passed to the Virginia General Assembly for a different casino site to be considered in central Virginia. Hubbard referenced the success of four other casino referendums in Virginia and said that the General Assembly can decide to choose another locale in central Virginia to vote on a casino. 

Four other cities in Virginia voted on a proposed casino in November 2020. Bristol, Virginia voted to approve a casino by 71%. Danville, Virginia voted to approve a casino by 68%. Portsmouth, Virginia approved a casino by 66%. Norfolk,Virginia approved a casino by 65%, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

“Basically back to the drawing board for the state, and the city for that matter,” Hubbard said. 

On Nov. 3, when the results of the decision were confirmed, Richmond For All released a press statement, announcing that the organization is “proud of our organization and our city” and their work as “grassroots organizers.”

“Following Election Day, Richmond For All’s membership will celebrate the defeat of a casino referendum in solidarity with Richmond community members who turned out in record numbers to avoid this iteration of extractive corporate development,” the organization stated.

VCU political science professor Alex Keena has worked at VCU for four years and holds a doctorate in political science, according to VCU’s website. The casino issue has been one to divide Richmonders, however not necessarily among political lines, Keena said.

“Richmond is overwhelmingly Democratic, but I think this is an issue that like splits the Democratic party,” Keena said. “There are much bigger issues at stake in terms of theories of economic growth and whether casino, and the economic effects on a community would be good or bad.”

The decision has also brought class issues into the election, Keena said. The referendum has been “interesting” for Keena to follow, because “it doesn’t fit neatly into the traditional sort of like, left-right split,” he said.

One argument made by those in opposition of the casino referendum is the potential for the casino to take large sums of money out of the community, Keena said.

Keena said the idea of opposing the casino because of worries about the community could be considered “paternalistic,” meaning people assume they know what is best for another group of people.

“On the other hand, you can also argue that it’s kind of like paternalistic to tell people who are low income that we know what’s good for you, and this is not good for you and you can’t really make decisions for yourself,” Keena said.

The median household income in Richmond city is $51,285 and the median income for nonfamily households is $36,394, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Nonfamily households include those who live alone and those who live with people unrelated to them, according to the census. The median household income in Virginia overall is $76,456.

“So it’s a really interesting issue that has all sorts of implications for class and race, and so there’s a lot to unpack there,” Keena said.

One concern expressed by those in opposition to the ONE Casino were related to the effects of gambling, according to nocasinorva.com. Politicians who have publicly stated their opposition to the casino’s construction include Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, according to casino.org

Richmond School Board members Kenya Gibson, who represents the 3rd District; Stephanie Rizzi, the 5th District representative and Jonathan Young, the 4th District representative, have all opposed the casino, according to ballotpedia.org. 

Reverend Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and founder of the National Action Network, visited Richmond on Oct. 29 to voice his support for the casino at a private event.

“I think that they have a historic opportunity in a community that has been ignored,” Sharpton said in a video interview from NBC12. “You’re talking about a half-billion dollars in tax revenue and a focus also on the southside that has been neglected.”

Richmond for All and Vote CasiNO RVA released a press statement on Oct. 29 in opposition to the casino plans. The organization stated Richmond needs “real economic development.”

“The administration should be looking to grow our economy by expanding public sector work, helping create local business, and enticing companies with high-quality, union jobs to come to our city,” the press release stated.  

Leslie Rubio, a Richmond resident and women’s rights advocate, stated in an email that she opposed the ONE Casino because she thinks the city could bring in profit, specifically the Black community, in other ways rather than a casino. 

“I cannot understand why the leaders of a city filled with rich African American history aren’t developing tourism around it,” Rubio stated. 

Rubio stated that Richmond has other ways to bring in tourism than a casino, especially if such plans utilized the African American history in the city to draw in tourists. 

“Richmond is a hub and could be a destination for those who seek to learn more about their African heritage and roots. This would be a more fitting development, instead of gambling,” Rubio stated. 

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