Urban One Founder Expresses Frustration Over Richmond Casino Campaign Funding

Posted on: November 3, 2023, 12:21h. 

Last updated on: November 3, 2023, 02:55h.

Urban One and Churchill Downs this week jointly contributed more than $1 million to a political action committee. That outlet is urging voters in Richmond to back the companies’ proposed $562 million casino project.

Urban One Churchill Downs Richmond casino
Urban One founder Cathy Hughes speaks in Georgia on June 24, 2023. Hughes says her firm and Churchill Downs were forced to “waste” $10 million to allow Richmond voters to decide on a casino presentation during the 2023 election. (Image: Getty)

According to state campaign finance records, the “Richmond Wins, Vote Yes” committee previously received more than $8.42 million from Kentucky-based Churchill Downs and Maryland-based Urban One. Churchill Downs accounted for about $4.24 million, and Urban One $4.18 million.

The two companies, which are asking voters in the Virginia capital to back their gaming development called the Richmond Grand Resort & Casino, gave another $1.06 million to the PAC last month. Churchill represented the bulk of the contribution at $899,269, with Urban One paying the remaining $168,714.

The companies have now spent almost $9.5 million on the 2023 Richmond casino referendum. It’s the second time in three years that Richmonders are being asked by their local city government to support a casino undertaking.

The 2021 gaming referendum was narrowly defeated by a vote of 51-49%. Richmond city officials believe bringing a casino resort to Richmond’s Southside adjacent to the Philip Morris plant would provide the capital metro with a much-needed economic trigger.

Casino Support, Opposition

Urban One was behind the 2021 casino push that Richmonders rejected. The media conglomerate is back for a redo, but his time with Churchill Downs. That’s after it acquired Urban One’s previous development partner, Peninsula Pacific Entertainment.   

Recent polling suggests this year’s casino vote outcome will also be razor-thin. In hopes of improving its odds, Urban One and Churchill Downs have directed considerable financial resources to their “Richmond Wins, Vote Yes” campaign.

The money has been used for campaign advertisements in support of the casino on television, radio, billboards, yard signs, and social media. The funds were also used for a recent block party and to provide free Uber vouchers for residents who pledge to use the rideshare credits to vote.

The opposition to the Urban One and Churchill Downs casino is being led by a political committee called “No Means No Casino.” The Family Foundation, a conservative, Christian organization, is also working to get out the “no” casino vote.

“No Means No Casino” and the Family Foundation have raised less than $500,000. But the opposition’s grassroots campaign is seemingly resonating in wealthier neighborhoods primarily north of the downtown capital area.

Wasted Money

Urban One founder Cathy Hughes is none too pleased to have spent more than $4.25 million of her company money on the 2023 casino referendum. The money is in addition to the $2.6 million the media firm spent on the 2021 referendum.

Speaking this week on 104.7FM “Praise Richmond,” which Urban One owns, Hughes said the campaign money could have gone to much better use.

God has blessed me with enough to build the Richmond Grand. But $10 million is what the final [campaign] bill looks like. Such a waste. I am so mad at this opposition,” Hughes said. “Do you know how much good I could have done with $10 million? I had to pay the lawyers, the accountants, and the lobbyists … just to get the opportunity for you all to vote.”

As for the reports that Urban One is facing delisting, Hughes dismissed the public’s concerns.

“Even if they did de-list us, so what? That doesn’t affect our business. That doesn’t affect our work. That’s a status listing. Being listed on Nasdaq just says that you are publicly traded. There is no appreciable benefit from having your name on the list,” Hughes opined.