Despite Virginia still not having a casino in any major metro area, there was a time when Richmond seemed destined to be the first domino to fall. Back in 2021, voters in the city were tasked with voting on a simple matter; whether or not a casino would be allowed to exist in Richmond. With more than $2.5 million in pro-casino lobbying money spent there were few industry experts who were expecting the referendum to be struck down. Struck down is exactly what the referendum was however, and it was back to the drawing board for those that wanted to bring casino gambling to Richmond.
Fast forward almost exactly two years and the residents of Richmond are being called to vote on a similar proposal. On the back of calls for increased revenue and jobs, pro-casino lobbying efforts are in full swing and the future of Richmond as a hub for casino gambling in Virginia is yet again going to be decided.
Breaking Down the Referendum
Urban One and Churchill Downs are the two companies working hardest to see the referendum passed because they are the same two groups who have masterminded it. The final product will be known as the Richmond Grand Resort & Casino, and if everything goes to plan next month doors will be opened for business within three years, by mid-2026.
The casino, while a hot-button issue in Richmond, is only a part of the overall plan as Urban One and Churchill Downs have plans to build much more than only a gambling destination. Slated to be complete in 2029, the whole project will encompass more than 100 acres and will include a public park, restaurants, hotels, a concert venue, and much more. Early estimations indicate that over 1,000 and as many as 1,300 jobs could be permanently created by the time this resort casino vision has been brought to life.
Included in the plan are guaranteed, livable minimum wages for resort employees and guarantees that the average annual compensation of employees will exceed $55,000. Because of these types of guaranteed protections for workers, it should come as no surprise that organized labor union have been supportive of the casino referendum. The inclusion of labor unions will also, according to many, ensure that the promises being made now are kept in the future.
Dealing with Detractors
Anytime there is mention of a casino project being voted upon it is only natural that anti-casino lobbying efforts come to town as well. Back in 2021, anti-casino lobbyists were outspent by more than 10x and still managed to declare victory. The expenditure on the part of those against the casino project has not increased by any significant margin this time around, but the questions being raised are different.
Rather than the usual concerns like the fear of a rise in crime in the areas around the casino, opponents are now calling into question the legitimacy of the project itself. Whether it be questioning the financial solvency of Urban One or pointing to ambiguity as it relates to the project’s funding, there are questions being asked.
If the people of Richmond vote Yes and the referendum is passed, construction is set to begin within a year and is expected to be completed in about two and a half years. If the referendum is yet again struck down however, there is thought that this could be the last chance Richmond has for a casino in a while. It is not very often that legislators present the same referendum to their citizens three times, and so a no vote is thought to be a death blow for casinos in Richmond, at least in the near-term.