Election Day Explainer: Why Richmond Casino, NJ Sports Betting Questions Failed

Posted on: November 5, 2021, 12:21h. 

Last updated on: November 5, 2021, 11:22h.

Election Day 2021 featured two major questions that stood to impact the US gaming industry. But each ballot referendum was rejected by voters, which begs the question, “Why?”

Richmond casino Virginia election 2021
Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins’ (shown above) vision for a casino resort in Richmond, Va., was rejected on Election Day. A proposal to expand sports betting in New Jersey was also defeated. (Image: Casino.org)

While Casino.org doesn’t have all the answers, we dug deep to better understand why voters in Richmond rejected the $565 million ONE Casino + Resort proposal for the Virginia capital, and why New Jerseyans opted not to further expand sports betting.

Richmonders Reject ONE Casino + Resort

Virginia legalized commercial gambling last year by way of a bill designed to spur economic activity in distressed cities. Five cities qualified to ask constituents whether they support using a commercial casino resort as a means to bring their town’s new jobs and generate additional tax revenue.

Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville each passed local casino referendums during the 2020 election. And all four cities did so convincingly.

Richmond opted to wait a year because of considerable interest from casino companies.

The capital ultimately received six bids, including proposals from nationally known companies, such as Golden Nugget and Bally’s. The Cordish Companies and its Live! casino brand also bid, as did Wind Creek Hospitality, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, and Urban One.

The pitches garnered strong feedback, with more affluent communities in the capital region largely opposing a casino in their neighborhoods. Race was injected into the matter when flyers opposing the Cordish $600 million blueprint for the historic Scott’s Addition neighborhood were passed around.

More traffic. Higher crime. Lower quality of life for us. Tell them to build it over there,” read the flyer, which led many to question where “over there” is.

Richmond, through its Resort Casino Evaluation Panel, ultimately went with Urban One, a Black-owned media conglomerate with no experience operating a casino or a resort. Urban One partnered with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, an experienced casino operator, to help guide the project. The $565 million undertaking was set to be built next to the Philip Morris tobacco plant and was to be the first Black-owned casino in the history of the United States.

Richmond residents cast 78,381 votes on the governor’s race. The city gubernatorial vote went vastly in favor of Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, who lent his support to ONE Casino. The former governor received more than 77 percent of the vote in Richmond but lost statewide to Republican newcomer Glenn Youngkin.

As for the casino question, 77,823 Richmonders weighed in. A little more than 51 percent voted “no” to deny Urban One’s casino ambitions.

Analyzing the voting data, the majority of the “no” vote came north of the James River where the majority of Richmond’s wealthier neighborhoods are located. Though they still voted heavily Democrat — and backed McAuliffe who endorsed the casino — that demographic overwhelmingly went against the gambling initiative.

Despite support from celebrities, including Missy Elliott and Jamie Foxx, the casino question was defeated.

“Concerns were raised, including increased crime, traffic, and doubts that the project would lead to other economic development in the area, which is among Richmond’s more impoverished districts,” explained Kate Andrews, deputy editor of Virginia Business.

On social media, many gave their own opinions as to why ONE Casino failed.

New Jerseyans Reject Sports Betting Expansion

New Jersey oddsmakers take more legal bets on sports each month than any other state with regulated sports wagering. Licensed oddsmakers in New Jersey, both retail and online, took almost $6 billion in sports bets in 2020.

To help New Jersey sustain its front-runner position, industry stakeholders argued that the ban on college sports betting involving state schools or taking place within the state must be repealed.

New Jerseyans were presented with the opportunity to do so on Election Day. But 57 percent — more than 1.1 million voters — responded “No” to allowing oddsmakers to take bets on Rutgers, Seton Hall, Princeton, and other New Jersey-based universities.

One potential concern with lifting the ban may have been that college athletes would feel more pressure and/or face more scrutiny on social media because of the added attention and money involved,” explained Jane Bokunewicz, director of Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism. “This is something that professional athletes have faced, with some questioning whether sports betting was a contributing factor.”

Though the gaming industry hoped the sports betting expansion question would pass, political pundits believe the absence of any real campaign to get out the message ultimately led to its failure.