Norfolk voters overwhelmingly approved a casino. But some neighborhoods were skeptical.

Ryan Murphy, The Virginian-Pilot
·3 min read

Once all the ballots were tallied, it was clear that Norfolk as a whole had embraced the idea of a new casino near Harbor Park.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s proposed resort netted 64.4% of the votes in its favor during the referendum vote that concluded Tuesday.

But while that suggests widespread support, laying the vote totals on a map shows one area of Norfolk was much more split on the idea.

Most of the city’s wealthier and whiter west side, including downtown, either supported the casino very narrowly or rejected it outright.

In places like Ghent, Chelsea, West Freemason and Downtown, the vote was split pretty cleanly, according to totals reported by the city’s registrar.

And three precincts — representing the northern half of Larchmont/Edgewater, Colonial Place, Riverview, Lakewood, Riverpoint and East and West Belvedere — voted against the casino.

Huge margins in other parts of the city still meant the casino approval passed with flying colors.

Virtually every precinct on the city’s east side, and in its far north and south, saw between 60% and 80% of voters support the casino measure.

The neighborhoods with the largest margins in favor — all over 80% — included Park Place, Barraud Park, Bruce’s Park, Berkley and Campostella.

Those last two southside neighborhoods would be just a bridge away from the new development.

They and the others most strongly in support also have higher percentages of Black residents than the city overall.

Identifying where the casino was popular or unpopular is easy. Parsing why is much harder.

The heavy support in Black neighborhoods might mean the casino backers' marketing efforts — which said the resort would mean more jobs for Black residents — worked. (Casino opponents noted that, while the tribe said its “goal” would be to hire 50% of workers from “minority groups,” it didn’t commit to doing so, and there will be no consequence if it fails to.)

One thing that’s clear when comparing the referendum results to other election tallies from Tuesday: Support or opposition to the casino isn’t drawn along party lines.

While two of the neighborhoods that rejected the casino supported Republican President Donald Trump, one swung heavily in favor of the Democratic candidate, former vice president Joe Biden.

In fact, many precincts in the city’s north and east favored Trump in the presidential contest this year as they supported the casino by margins of 20% or 30%.

Michael Langston, the president of the Colonial Place/Riverview Civic League, said the casino wasn’t exactly a hot topic of discussion there ahead of the election.

“It’s kind of surprising, because I only saw a handful of signs in the neighborhood" against the casino, Langston said. “The only conversations I really had was the effects it would have on downtown businesses … and the financial impact on Granby Street."

Fears about a casino sucking customers and employees away from existing restaurants and entertainment venues have cropped up repeatedly as the city has mulled the possibility of a casino.

Langston noted many restaurateurs live in Colonial Place and Riverview.

“I do know there’s a lot of business owners who live in the neighborhood and maybe they talked to their friends about the casino," he said.

Now that the referendum has passed, the tribe is set to seek final approvals from the state Lottery Board and start construction on the advertised $500 million hotel and casino resort sometime next year.

When it’s finished in 2023, Norfolk city officials have said they expect it to bring in around $44 million annually in taxes and gambling revenue, even with a competing casino across the water in Portsmouth expected to be opening as well.

Ryan Murphy, 757-739-8582, ryan.murphy@pilotonline.com

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