“Blessed“ Is the Second RVA Casino Referendum

by Jon Baliles

Early voting has begin in Virginia and the Richmond casino advocates have gone all-in with the mayor and City Council to make sure the referendum got back on the ballot and now are betting the house with an absurd amount of money to make sure the referendum passes this time.

Jimmy Cloutier at Virginia Investigative Journalism has an interesting piece on the all out effort by the casino advocates to buy their way to a victory at the polls  this time around. He points out that two out-of-state companies (Urban One, based in Maryland and Churchill Downs, based in Kentucky) have already raised $8.1 million which “dwarfs the amount of money raised in every Virginia legislative race and ballot initiative in state history, according to an analysis of campaign finance data by OpenSecrets.”

Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins said on WRVA the other morning that Richmonders “deserve” another opportunity to vote for the casino. He also said, “I feel blessed that Richmonders are going to have a second time to consider this project.” And that would certainly be appropriate language since he and the casino advocates are asking and “encouraging” many church leaders over the next six Sundays to tell their flocks that a casino in Richmond is just what the man upstairs would want us to be blessed with. They want the churches to lead the praying for a casino so the casino owners can then do their own kind of preying.

Liggins also said the rebranded Richmond Grand Resort and Casino as “absolutely a new design,” even though Axios Richmond took a look at the rebranding pictures and schematics and found that Aside from the new name and new renderings, the only other substantial change [from 2021] to plans for the facility is a promise to include pickleball courts in a 55-acre park surrounding the venue.” Pickleball and slots are coming. How did we ever survive before?

Spending more than $8 million for a local ballot initiative could be a tell (to use a poker term) of several things — the advocates plan to buy their way to victory with door-to-door canvassing, ballot harvesting, etc.; they will try and paint a picture of a benevolent development project that won’t serve investors but rather provide funding to solve every problem the city faces; or possibly that their idea for a predatory casino is not as popular as they think and they are spending as much to make it seem like a sure thing/done deal.

Regardless of the flood of money, casino opponents are still determined to fight the proposal, even though they have only raised about $200,000 so far.

“This makes David and Goliath look like a fair fight,” said Paul Goldman, a political strategist and former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, who is leading his second campaign against the casino. “This is like David versus Goliath and his entire family.”

To give you a sense of how much money casino advocates are spending, they have spent (as of August 31) $479,000 to groups to canvass the city and knock on doors, and just recently they paid the Unite Here hospitality workers union $800,000 to earn their support and also knock on doors.

All of this spending will continue as early voting gets underway and November 7 approaches; and remember, the casino owners also promised to pay the city $26.5 million within 30 days if the referendum is approved.

So right now the casino advocates are committed to spending at least $34.6 million to buy their way into being a player in Richmond (and by the time it is over, it will very likely be north of $40 million). That is an incredible amount of money spent for a local referendum in Virginia (or anywhere else). And to put it in perspective, that is more than 2-1/2 times the amount of money spent by every single candidate for Mayor, City Council, School Board, Sheriff, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Clerk of the Court, City Treasurer, and Dog Catcher in Richmond in the 21st Century (just kidding, we don’t elect a dog catcher).

The casino advocates will soon be coming to a doorbell near you and they will stop at nothing and spare no expense to get the referendum past the finish line this time — there is just too much money to be made. They will spend whatever it takes of their money to get their hands on your money, and preying on those who can least afford it.

Jon Baliles is a former Richmond City Councilman. Republished with permission from RVA 5×5.