Richmond Crusade for Voters Lambastes Effort to Relocate City’s Casino Opportunity

Posted on: May 1, 2023, 03:58h. 

Last updated on: May 1, 2023, 04:34h.

Richmond’s Crusade for Voters, a nonprofit organization that works to elevate the political influence and voting strength of Blacks in the Virginia capital, says efforts to relocate the city’s casino opportunity are unjust.

Richmond Crusade for Voters casino Urban One Virginia
Richmond Crusade for Voters holds a cookout ahead of the November 2021 election when city voters ultimately voted down a $600 million casino development. Richmond’s City Council, as well as the Crusade for Voters organization, wants to protect the Virginia capital’s casino opportunity. (Image: Richmond Crusade for Voters)

Founded in 1956 during the civil rights struggle, the Richmond Crusade for Voters came in response to a statewide referendum on public education that saw Blacks outvoted by a 4-1 margin. The referendum sought to prevent local governments and their public schools from being allowed to block integration.

Less than 50% of Black voters in Richmond voted during the January 1956 referendum. Since then, Crusade for Voters has rallied Blacks to bond together to raise their collective voice on the state level.

The latest issue Crusade for Voters believes could have a significant impact on the Black community is Richmond’s casino opportunity that was authorized through state legislation in 2020. Richmonders narrowly rejected a proposed $600 million casino proposal called One Casino + Resort during a November 2021 referendum.

More white, affluent neighborhoods north of the James River voted strongly against the casino project, which targeted vacant land just off Interstate 95 adjacent to the Philip Morris headquarters. The casino site is southeast of the city’s downtown area.

Casino Backstory

Richmond city officials were tasked with fielding gaming resort proposals from interested developers after state lawmakers qualified the capital to mull a casino. The city’s Casino Evaluation Panel fielded six bids, with tenders coming from the Bally’s Corporation, The Cordish Companies, Golden Nugget, Wind Creek Hospitality, Pamunkey Indian Tribe, and Urban One.

The city ultimately went with Urban One, a Black-focused media conglomerate. Urban One pitched One Casino + Resort in conjunction with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E), a gaming firm with a lengthy history of managing casinos. The One Casino pitch additionally included about 50 local investors, most of whom identified as minorities.

One has a large group of diverse investors, providing opportunities for minority ownership and including representation across Richmond,” Urban One officials said in 2021. “One is about lifting people up and building wealth within the Richmond community.”

After Richmond’s 2021 casino referendum was voted down 51-49%, efforts commenced to relocate the city’s gaming opportunity to nearby Petersburg. The Richmond City Council wants to conduct a second gaming referendum this November.

Protecting Opportunity

White turnout during the 2021 referendum was said to be better than Black turnout during what was the state’s gubernatorial. The Richmond City Council believes a more coordinated message about the possible benefits that Urban One’s casino would deliver the region would entice more Blacks to vote in support of the gaming question.

Leaders at the Richmond Crusade for Voters say state politicians who think a second vote goes against the Democratic process, or who want to strip Richmond’s casino privilege and move it to Petersburg, would wrongly deny Black residents of a considerable economic opportunity. During the state’s 2021 budget discussions, state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond, Petersburg) successfully slid in a provision that blocked Richmond from conducting another casino referendum until at least November 2023. Morrissey believes a casino in Petersburg would benefit the region as a whole.

“We don’t want the right to vote on this to be taken away,” Richmond Crusade for Voters 1st Vice President Marty Jewell told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Jewell is a former Richmond city councilor.

This is the first and only time such a budget measure has ever been passed to deny residents of a city their right to vote, especially a majority-Black city,” Jewell added.

House Appropriations Chair Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) is leading the budget crusade to block another Richmond casino vote. State budget negotiations are dragging in Richmond because of a stalemate between Democrats and Republicans over how it’s best to go about cutting state spending by $1 billion, something Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin is demanding.