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OPINION: The Richmond Casino Is Back On The Ballot. Here’s Why You Should Vote No

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at VCU chapter.

Voting day is less than one month away, and in addition to issues on the table currently under the spotlight, such as the presidential election, many local proposals will also be voted on. In recent years, college student voting rates have increased dramatically — the goal is to keep it that way, which is why every college student in Richmond should prepare for and plan to vote on Nov. 7. In 2021, proposals for five casinos expected to be built around Virginia were on the ballot. Four of them were successful, but the Richmond proposal was not, although Richmond residents were quite divided over this issue. This year, a similar proposal is back, and despite the surface-level economic benefits to be considered, there are many drawbacks to introducing a casino into Richmond. 

The Richmond Grand Resort and Casino is expected to be a $561 million project located in South Richmond, and in addition to the casino, it will include a large hotel, concert venue, and outdoor park, as discussed in an article by 500 Nations. The possible benefits of this are evident, which is why the Richmond residents’ opinions about the proposal are so deeply divided in the first place. For instance, the casino would generate economic activity and likely increase tourism. Tourist attractions allow local shops, restaurants, and other businesses to thrive. Additionally, with such a large customer-oriented project comes many new job opportunities, which helps boost Richmond’s economy and residents’ employment statuses.

However, while Richmond’s economy may benefit from this casino, individual Richmond residents likely will not in the long term, in the health and financial aspects. It’s no surprise that casinos purposefully exploit vulnerable populations, which include people more likely to gain a gambling addiction and lower-income residents more likely to enter gambling for financial reasons. Richmond is known to have a growing drug addiction problem, which has been determined to be a public health crisis. Over the course of the pandemic, addiction and fatalities resulting from drug misuse rose drastically, with non-fatal overdoses rising by 50% between 2019 to 2020, and deaths from drug use climbing, especially from Fentanyl use. Research shows that having a substance use disorder is a risk factor for a gambling addiction disorder, which experts explain could be attributed to similar reward-seeking and impulsivity responses in the brain which both addictions activate. One article offers an explanation for this – research points to underactive reward circuits in the brain which lead to much larger risks being taken. Similar to how people with substance use disorders grow tolerance to drugs and have to take more of the drug to feel the same reaction as other instances, people addicted to gambling may bet more money or make more impulsive decisions. It’s safe to assume that a targeted, easily exploited population of Richmond residents of a casino would be those already struggling with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. In the long term, increasing gambling addictions in Richmond residents hurts their health. 

The casino is also strategically placed in Southside Richmond, where the average and median household incomes are less than overall Richmond demographics. As of 2021, median household income in Richmond was $74,592, as opposed to in Southside where it was $54,856. A 2021 study in the Journal of Gambling Studies found that lower-income people are more likely to spend proportionately more of their income on gambling than higher-income counterparts. They also cannot make up their losses, which leads to debt and a repeating cycle of losing money. Interestingly, the article highlights that while gambling addiction issues are more common in populations that are unemployed and lower-income, “gambling opportunities are concentrated in the socio-economically disadvantaged areas.” This is exactly what we see happening in Richmond with this proposal. 

There are many alternatives to contributing to the Richmond economy than a project that will lead to detrimental effects on our residents long term. As voters, we have the power to influence how and where money is spent, and it’s our responsibility to take care of fellow Richmond residents. Voting day is just a few weeks away — when you’re at the polls, remember to vote no to the Richmond casino. 

Sanya Surya is a third-year pre-medical student in the Guaranteed Admission Program for Medicine at VCU Honors College. She is majoring in Bioinformatics and minoring in Chemistry. She hopes to become a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist and work in public health. Sanya's career interests revolve around social justice, education, advocacy, mental health, and women's health. She has volunteered in the past as a peer sex educator for Planned Parenthood's Teen Council program, teaching over 400 students in the Portland and Beaverton, OR metro area comprehensive sex education. She also works in mental health, with experience on two crisis hotlines supporting people in need. She is also an active performing artist, trained in 7 styles of dance, Indian and Western vocal music, instrumental music, and a former thespian.