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Read more VPM News coverage of the historic 2023 elections in Virginia.

Richmond Grand folds on election night

Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins III and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney share a laugh
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins III stands with Mayor Levar Stoney after the second Richmond casino referendum failed in unofficial returns on Tuesday, Nov. 7 at Omni Richmond Hotel.

The contest was among the most expensive referendums in Virginia history.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

The house didn’t win as the Richmond Wins, Vote Yes referendum committee conceded defeat at about 9 p.m. Tuesday — prior to many Southside precincts reporting results.

The latest casino referendum’s failure also presented Mayor Levar Stoney, who’d vocally advocated for the project, with a defeat of his own. He responded to the outcome in an emailed statement.

“I will continue to be a voice for communities that have been historically overlooked and underserved. I will work for more accessible and affordable child care, for good paying jobs, and for an abundance of opportunities for ALL Richmonders – no matter their zip code or socioeconomic status,” the statement read.

Later Tuesday night, Stoney responded to the possibility of a third referendum. While he noted the unofficial results haven't been certified by state election officials, Stoney did discuss the rest of his term.

“My agenda from now moving forward to the end of my term will be focused on how we go about improving families, how we go about giving a fair shot, how we go about investing in public education, how we go about investing in housing and whatnot moving forward,” he said. “This will not be on the agenda.”

Despite Urban One and Churchill Downs — the companies behind the casino referendum — spending almost $10 million to convince voters of the project’s benefits, a vocal group of detractors created an opposition force funded by members of the Ukrops family and others.

“We are proud to have run a community-centered campaign to create more opportunities for residents of this great city to rise into the middle class,” the Richmond Wins, Vote Yes email said. “We are grateful to the thousands of Richmonders who voted for good jobs and a stronger city, especially those in Southside who poured their hearts into this project.”

The No Means No committee raised about $280,000 in total. On Election Day, the Richmond Wins, Vote Yes referendum committee had more than $350,000 in cash, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

In 2021, a similar referendum was narrowly voted down with residents north of the James River — a largely white constituency mostly voting against the measure. The proposal received more robust support south of the river, where more Black and brown residents live.

The week before Election Day, recordings of Preston Brown — a former wrestler, onetime candidate for local office and a casino supporter — were posted to the No Means No Casino website. During his appearance on The Box, a Richmond radio station owned by Urban One, Brown used antisemitic language when discussing Paul Goldman, a Virginia political operative behind the No Means No Casino.

Other recordings include the station’s hosts and their guests — including Urban One Founder Cathy Hughes — discussing Black Richmonders who hadn’t thrown their support behind the casino in derogatory terms. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and Anne Holton, Kaine’s wife, were also criticized.

A station representative issued a five-sentence statement that said the comments about Goldman were “horrible and offensive.”

Stoney also disavowed the comments about Goldman on X, but not the other statements. Stoney, ahead of a potential run for governor, has visited Israel during his time as mayor and also quickly condemned the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on the Jewish state.

Hughes also used her local radio station as a platform to downplay issues Urban One has had with NASDAQ, a stock exchange that began the process of delisting her company earlier this fall after financial documents weren’t filed on time.

“That's a status listing,” Hughes said in one of the recordings, adding that it wouldn’t impact her business.

The company requested a hearing, which delayed a final decision on the process. But Urban One is currently listed as being noncompliant on NASDAQ’s website.

During an Oct. 24 radio appearance, Hughes also appeared to indicate that there wouldn’t be another attempt to pass a casino referendum in Richmond.

"If you all don't vote,” she said, before pausing, “the same way this casino is gonna go to another city, so are we."

Hughes has publicly said that if she was to build a casino here, her company would also construct a soundstage that would provide an additional source of employment for city residents.

VPM News texted Hughes last week to ask if there would be a third attempt at passing a referendum, but received no response. Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins III declined a request for comment.

If the referendum had been approved, Urban One and Churchill Downs would have been required to make a $25.5 million payment to the city within 30 days of the vote’s certification. City Council previously OK’d using $7 million from that upfront payment to finance a Southside childcare facility at the Thomas B. Smith Community Center.

Updated: November 7, 2023 at 10:52 PM EST
This article has been updated with a quote from Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
Dave Cantor has been an editor with VPM News since 2022, juggling daily digital and broadcast stories.
Jahd Khalil covers local government, the economy and labor issues for VPM News. Previously, he covered state government for RadioIQ and was a freelance journalist based in Egypt.