New jobs, alleged fear-mongering, racism, antisemitism, and more terms like this have been involved in what will be the most competitive item on the ballot for Richmond voters Tuesday. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s second attempt at bringing a casino to the city will be decided by residents of the city in a referendum vote. If the proposal passes, it will give the mayor momentum heading into a primary race for governor. If it fails again, as it did in 2021, then Stoney and casino proponents will have put forth a lot of effort and money for nothing.
Urban One and Churchill Downs Inc. are the groups sponsoring and investing millions into this project. They have invested nearly $10 million in their efforts to convince voters to support the proposal. The money is going towards marketing like billboards, TV commercials, get-out-the-vote efforts, events at early voting locations, and more.
The anti-casino crowd has invested only a fraction of that — $284,465 according to VPAP. The group is called “No Means No Casino” and is backed mostly by Richmond Action LLC, the Ukrop Family, and Paul Goldman. Goldman is the loudest voice in opposition to the casino and was even attacked last week on a radio show hosted by Urban One.
Polling shows that the anti-casino crowd has a slight advantage heading to the polls. A poll from Co/efficient of 914 likely Richmond voters at the end of October found that after rounding, 49% said they would vote yes or likely yes and 52% said they would vote no or likely no.
Thirty-four percent of the poll’s respondents live in HD-79, which is where the casino would be built if it is approved.
The first referendum in 2021 failed by less than two points.
In an interview last month, Mayor Stoney talked about why he and the developers are bringing the referendum back up for a vote two years later.
“We listened to a lot of the residents who are, I guess you could say brokenhearted by the fact that the casino referendum did not pass in 2021 and a lot of those residents live in South Richmond,” Stoney said.
He talked about how many Richmonders are “counting on the possibility of having a stable job” and are “looking for some investment in their neighborhoods. When folks ask me that question, I go back to Southsiders — those who need these jobs the most. We have always been a pro-opportunity administration.”
Stoney also talked about why he believes the 2021 referendum failed to pass. “I think the campaign the last time around was mostly marketing and not necessarily grassroots, door-to-door,” he said. “And also I think there was a lot of misinformation out there. Some were saying there were city dollars, taxpayer dollars being used — that is just not true, that is false. Some of the fear-mongering that occurred as well, which I am unfortunately seeing some of that fear-mongering today in this campaign as well. Plus the 2021 race where we had three candidates on the ballot and it drove out a certain kind of voter as well. There was a whole host of different factors that I think occurred in 2021. However, 2023 gives us the perfect opportunity to explain the project in full. The project that folks are getting now is a better product. than what we were seeing in 2021.”
He talked about how they are choosing to message differently after learning from their mistakes the first time. “I think in 2021, we never stated what we would use the funding for,” Stoney said. “We knew that this would bring us roughly $30 million in annual revenues to the city. We decided [in 2021] that we would just stay out of the discussion of what the revenues would be used for. I think that was a mistake.”
He emphasized the voters should have been given more clarity on the project and its revenue. “I look back at it and we should have given some sort of clarity to the taxpayer, to the voter about what the revenues would go to,” Stoney said. “This year we have announced that we are going use $19 million of the gaming revenue that we will receive annually for a childcare and education trust fund.”
Richmond’s City Council approved the proposal in September to use that $19 million in gaming revenue for the trust fund. Stoney has suggested that this is an alternative to raising taxes to address childcare shortages in Richmond.
“We want to create more childcare slots in the city, we know there are working-class folks and also upper-middle-class folks who are all challenging each other for the same finite amount of childcare spots,” Stoney said. “The less you spend on childcare, the more you can put towards your family needs inside the household. We want to invest in the educators as well. I think that the folks who do this work for the kids between the ages of 0-5, we should invest in them as we invest in our K-12 educators.”
Stoney and the developers are also predicting that the casino will provide 1,200 union-backed jobs.
Unite Here, a hospitality union announced their support for the project in September. Finance reports show that the casino developers gave $800,000 to a different referendum committee, “Richmonders for Good Jobs,” which is associated with Unite Here.
Stoney believes that the child care trust fund and promise of union jobs make this proposal better for Richmond voters.
But still, some in Richmond believe that the city already decided two years ago to not allow a casino and it shouldn’t be on the ballot again. Stoney compared those people to parents talking to their children and also pointed to political candidates who lose and continue to run.
“In this democracy, we do not tell candidates who lose that they cannot run a second time,” he said. “There are perennial candidates all across this county who run more than once for public office. That is what democracy is. So when I hear, even the tone of the ‘No Means No’ people, it is almost like the parent wagging their finger at a child.”
In June, every member of the Richmond City Council voted in favor of allowing the referendum on the ballot this year except for one member, Katherine Jordan.
“I believe the citizens should have an opportunity to vote on this next time,” City Councilor Mike Jones said at the time. “You can’t compare the deal. There is no comparison to this deal. There just isn’t.” Jones is now running for the House of Delegates.
“Here in the city of Richmond, we are 90% residential and 10% commercial,” Councilwoman Ann-Frances Lambert said. “At the end of the day, if we want to be so much like Henrico, we have to say yes to projects.” Lambert ran for the House of Delegates also but lost the nomination contest to Rae Cousins in June.
The casino developers had remained mostly above the fray of publicly arguing with anti-casino folks until this past week when it was revealed that Goldman was attacked during an Urban One radio show. Goldman is the PAC director for the “No Means No Casino” group.
The antisemitic remarks took place on The Box 99.5 by Preston Brown. Brown called Goldman “a Jew who’s got the same trait as Judas.” He then describes him as a “white Jew with the background of Judas.”
Urban One described Brown as a temporary guest host and said that he is not an employee of the station. “Once we heard the comments and because [Brown] was alone in the studio with his producer, I personally drove to the station and immediately removed him from the show,” said Urban One regional vice president Marsha Landess,
Stoney also denounced the comments. “We must call hate out in all of its forms, and his remarks are completely unacceptable,” he said on social media.
Urban One’s CEO, Alfred Liggins, personally apologized to Goldman — who said he accepted. “Yes, I was ticked off. I let him know. But I knew he was better than that. When he responded [Friday] morning with a gracious apology, I wasn’t surprised. And it is fully accepted,” Goldman said in a press release. “I understand the mayor has issued a press release apologizing to me. That too is fully accepted.”
On a separate Urban One radio show, Praise 104.7, the host Gary Flowers and Urban One’s founder Cathy Hughes talked about “two Black Richmonds,” comparing the “average” and the “elite.” In the clip from mid-October, Hughes said: “you’re saying we’ve got house n***** and field n*****.”
Hughes also talked about how the anti-casino crowd has made her life more financially difficult. “I am so mad at this opposition. You know how much good I could have done,” she says in the clip. “I’ve had to pay lawyers and accountants and lobbyists and make contributions to everybody I thought could influence.”
Hughes has an estimated net worth of nearly $500 million.
Flowers also directly called out Richmond resident Allan-Charles Chipman on the show. He accused Chipman of being paid by casino opposition. “Apparently Gary Flowers and Cathy Hughes have been lying on my name,” Chipman said in response. “They have been slandering me on radio one stations saying I am paid by casino opposition. This is false and I’ve never received nor would I receive a dime for this. Easy Google search of VPAP will show this.”
Chipman continued: “Their insinuation that I am somehow scared to explain my advocacy against the casino to them is also false,” Chipman continued. “I was invited to do a live debate in studio at NBC 12 on Wednesday November 2nd to which a pro casino person would make their case and I would make mine. I agreed. An NBC 12 employee called me on the Friday before to inform me the casino side kept asking for restrictions on what I could ask or what could be asked of them. The restrictions were so ridiculous that the NBC12 producer canceled the segment due to lack of cooperation of casino…NOT me.”
Urban One has not commented any further on the statement from Chipman.
Early voting has been taking place for weeks but Tuesday is the day that voters head to the polls and decide on whether or not the casino project will be allowed to move forward.
“If you don’t support casino gambling, then vote no,” Stoney said. “But if you support childcare for our kids, if you support 1,200 good jobs that create careers for those who need these jobs the most then vote yes. If you want more entertainment in the City of Richmond then vote yes.”