In the ever-unpredictable theater of public opinion, the historic city of Richmond has once more cast its verdict against the lure of neon lights and the siren call of slot machines. For the second consecutive occasion, the November ballots bore witness to a community steadfast in its resolve: a proposed casino, a bastion of indulgence and chance, would find no home within the city’s embrace.
The drumbeat of democracy echoed louder this time, with the opposition’s crescendo outstripping the previous year’s margin. The 2021 referendum’s whisper-thin 51%-49% rejection amplified into a decisive 58%-42% repudiation in the latest vote. The ill-fated endeavor, first christened as ONE Casino + Resort and reincarnated as Richmond Grand Resort & Casino, had twice sought to enchant Richmond’s electorate with visions of prosperity and entertainment.
With the second defeat still fresh, the specter of a third referendum looms uninvitingly over the city’s council chambers. Yet, in the marble halls of the state legislature, the drama unfolds anew. Two lawmakers, intimately acquainted with Richmond’s political pulse, have conjured their own spell to quell the casino question’s restless spirit. Their proposed incantations would excise the precise legal language that had once designated Richmond as a worthy suitor for casino courtship.
The magistrates of casino fate, State Del. Betsy Carr and Del. Michael Jones, both don blue banners and both call Richmond home. Their legislative instruments, if performed to conclusion, would forbid the city from beckoning its citizens to the ballot booths on this affair a third time. The other cities listed in Virginia’s 2020 gambling hymn—Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville—had each embraced their single referendums with open arms, welcoming the siren into their harbors without hesitation.
Yet not all within the Commonwealth are content to let Richmond’s fable conclude. From the south, the city of Petersburg, no further than a stone’s throw of 25 miles, has eyed the empty throne of casino host with ambition. State Sen. Louise Lucas, the “Casino Lady” herself, leads the charge. With a legacy threading back to 1992 in state governance, Lucas has rallied her forces to plant the banner of Petersburg casino dreams in the 2024 cycle.
Meanwhile, in the north, the towering corporate citadels of Fairfax County’s Tysons beckon. State Sen. David Marsden, with a gaze fixed on the untapped potential tax revenues and the ceaseless flow of currency into the coffers of neighboring states, has laid out his blueprint to crown Tysons with casino royalty.
As for Richmond, the tale is rich with characters and subplots. The city government, allied with media titan Urban One, bet heavily on the narrative that a casino would sow the seeds of prosperity across the capital metro. They dubbed their campaign “Richmond Wins, Vote Yes,” a chant to rally support. But as the sands of the hourglass trickled down to voting day, the campaign veered off-script.
Urban One founder Cathy Hughes and radio host Preston Brown stirred the still waters of Richmond’s discourse with incendiary pronouncements, charging the casino’s detractors with attacking the Black community, and casting aspersions of deep-seated bias upon one of the enterprise’s most vociferous opponents.
Thus, the second act of Richmond’s casino saga closed, not with the applause of fulfilled dreams, but with the quiet resolve of a community standing firm. While the future holds its cards close, for now, the jackpots and jubilations of a gaming resort elude Virginia’s storied capital.