Richmond casino referendum: Urban ONE rolled the dice, but the race is too close to call

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond’s casino question dominated the local conversation this year, with over a million dollars poured into advertising.

Now, with all physical precincts reporting, it appears that Richmond is on the verge of narrowly rejecting the ONE Casino + Resort, by a margin of just under 3%.

As of 9:15 a.m., 39,824 (51.4%) Richmond residents voted against the proposal, while 37,599 (48.6%) voted in favor of it.

All that remains to be counted now are the outstanding mail-in ballots – postmarked before Nov. 2 – and the provisional ballots.

Data from the Virginia Public Access Project indicates there are 2,373 outstanding mail-in ballots at this time.

According to Electoral Board Chairman James Nachman, 550 provisional ballots remain to be counted – those are ballots where the electoral board needs to verify the voter’s eligibility.

So with a total of 2,923 outstanding ballots (mail-in and provisional ballots combined), it seems unlikely that the outstanding votes will be able to swing the results, but at the end of election night, the race remains too close to call.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney released a statement on Wednesday morning reacting to the news.

“While I believe this was a $565 million opportunity lost to create well-paying jobs, expand opportunity, keep taxes low and increase revenue to meet the needs of our growing city, I am proud of the transparent and public process we went through to listen to our residents and put this opportunity before our voters,” Stoney said. “From the beginning, we said the people would decide. They have spoken, and we must respect their decision.”

How people voted in Richmond precincts

Background

Richmond’s casino referendum was the highest-profile local race this year, attracting an intense ad campaign from the project’s sponsor, Urban ONE, and pushback from local activists.

The referendum was the last of five held in independent cities across Virginia. In November 2020, the General Assembly approved plans for casino developments, pending approval from local voters.

Four of the five cities – Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth and Norfolk – approved their own projects earlier this year.

Richmond City Council selected the Urban ONE proposal – billed as ONE Casino + Resort – from a slate of three offerings. The project has since attracted high-profile support from city council members, Reverend Al Sharpton and Mayor Levar Stoney.

Urban ONE is a media company with radio stations in major cities up and down the East Coast, as well as a minority stake in the MGM National Harbor casino in Maryland. If you tuned in to local station KISS FM you may have heard ads promoting the casino – alongside billboards, yard signs and newspaper ads.

But opposition manifested locally as well, with community activists questioning whether the promised economic benefits would materialize and warning about a potential increase in problem gambling.

“Research actually shows that casinos can lower property values up to 15% of what’s surrounding there as well,” said community activist Allan-Charles Chipman on an episode of Race Capitol, a local radio show.

VPAP reports that pro-casino PAC “Vote Yes Richmond Wins!”, which received most of its support from entities associated with Urban ONE, spent $1,103,892 in support of the proposal as of Oct. 21.

Opposition group “Vote NO on RVA Casino,” spent $61,120 as of Oct. 20.

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