Richmond Casino Backers Offer Voters Free Ubers/Meals, Opposition Sues

Posted on: October 18, 2023, 10:03h. 

Last updated on: October 18, 2023, 09:12h.

Backers of the Richmond casino referendum asking voters in the Virginia capital to endorse a $562 million project called the Richmond Grand Resort & Casino are trying to win over support with free Uber rides and meals.

Richmond casino Virginia election
Free meals were offered to early voters in Richmond outside the Richmond City Office of Elections on Oct. 11, 2023. Richmonders are being asked to support a casino resort project for the second time in three years. (Image: X)

Urban One, a Black-focused media conglomerate based in Maryland, is partnered with Churchill Downs, Inc. for its second Richmond gaming referendum. Urban One’s 2021 casino effort with then-partner Peninsula Pacific Entertainment was narrowly rejected by a 51-49% citywide vote.

Richmond officials are allowing a redo on the gaming initiative. They do so in the hopes that a more coordinated message about the possible economic benefits a casino would bring the Virginia capital metro will result in a different outcome. Urban One and Churchill officials hope to gain votes through free Uber rides and meals, along with better promoting the resort’s forecasted impacts, such as 1,300 union jobs and $30 million in annual revenue for the city.

With a treasure chest totaling more than $8.1 million, the casino referendum campaign is offering free Uber vouchers to city residents who express support for the gaming project during door-to-door canvassing. With early voting underway ahead of Election Day on Nov. 7, those vouchers can be used immediately to travel to the city’s three early voting centers at the Richmond City Hall, the Richmond City Office of Elections, and the Hickory Hill Community Center.

Ubers, Meals

Along with a free ride to an early voting center, the Richmond casino backers offer voters free meals.

The campaign has recently paid to put food trucks outside early polling centers and has covered the cost of meals for people who show they voted. A vote supporting the casino isn’t required to receive a free meal.

We’re celebrating early voting,” said Michael Kelly, a spokesperson for the referendum initiative.

The campaign’s war chest is funded equally by Urban One and Churchill, with each company donating $4 million to “Richmond Wins.” The companies have also contributed more than $32K to state and city lawmakers, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) and the Richmond City Council.

Opposition Files Federal Lawsuit

Residents who oppose the casino, or at the very least, dispute the Richmond City Council forcing a second gaming referendum on voters, are at a severe financial disadvantage in coordinating their message. The opposition is led by Paul Goldman, a longtime political strategist in Virginia who previously chaired the state’s Democratic Party.

Goldman says the casino opposition group “No Means No Casino” has about $200K to spend, with the bulk of that money — $125K — coming from philanthropists James and Barbara Ukrop. Goldman is seeking to obtain the registered voter list from the Virginia Department of Elections but alleges that Commissioner Susan Beals has refused to issue the catalog unless he agrees to allow the state to censor the “No Means No Casino” messaging.

Goldman, representing himself in the case, says the state Elections Department denied his request because he was deemed “statutorily ineligible.” Goldman alleges that state elections officials wrongly deemed his campaign messaging to use “intimidation” and “pressure.”

“Modern elections are a mix of advocacy and attack, not merely one of neutrally advocating for increased participation, however one might vote, or increased registration even if this generates greater support for the opposition,” Goldman wrote in a legal filing. “Like it or not, American elections are aimed at winning within rules set for a fair and transparent rules, where the thumb of the government is not on the scale as it is in this instant matter.”

Citing First and 14th Amendment violations, Goldman’s federal lawsuit against Beals and the state elections department will be heard this Friday in the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.