RICHMOND, Va. -- Thousands of people are expected to show up to a Southside Richmond voting location this weekend, as casino backers are hosting a free concert and party surrounding the precinct while early voting is taking place. It's one of the latest efforts of pro-casino groups, who have spent more than $8 million on the campaign, to appeal to voters,
“Oh yeah, I can’t wait! I might be one of the first ones there," Richmond resident Melinda Davis said.
Davis said she's a supporter of the casino largely because of the 1,300 new jobs casino backers have vowed to create.
“We need jobs. Everybody out here ain’t got no work," Davis said.
Other voters however said they're skeptical of the promises being made by out-of-state companies behind the proposed casino —Urban One and Churchill Downs.
“I want to be a resident in a city that chooses to invest in our residents, not a city that gambles on our residents," Jennifer Yox said. “I personally don't think it should take $8 million to convince someone that the thing you're selling is actually a good idea.”
Richmond Grand Resort and Casino will host an all-day party and concert on Saturday, headlined by the Isley Brothers, at Hickory Hill Community Center, which is a voting location.
The event will feature free food and music in the fields behind and next to the precinct.
More than 6,o00 people are expected to attend, raising questions over whether early voting operations will be impacted.
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Richmond Grand spokesperson Michael Kelly aimed to ease any concerns.
“This event has been planned to a tee to make sure that folks who are coming for the party have a great time and to make sure that folks who are just coming to cast their ballot can do so as easily and quickly as possible," Kelly said, adding that staff met with the Department of Elections Friday for approval of their plan.
Richmond's General Registrar Keith Balmer said election officials will ensure there is full access to in-person and curbside voting on Saturday; however, he said his office can only control the areas within 40 feet of the entrance to the voting location.
"We do not control any other events that take place at community centers, schools, churches, or other voting locations," Balmer said.
But he added, "Since there will be a concert at Hickory Hill Community Center on Saturday, we will monitor that location to ensure that no loudspeakers are within 300 feet of the entrance to the precinct."
Kelly said folks who are coming for the event will be asked to park in a separate parking lot across the street from Hickory Hill Community Center.
The community center's main parking lot will still be available for voters who do not want to participate in the party or concert.
"The concert is going to be getting started in the afternoon. We'll announce the time tomorrow," Kelly said. “But we're going to be fully compliant with all the state laws that prevent amplified sound within a few hundred feet of the facility.”
Davis said she believed the event is a creative and fun way to engage voters and increase turnout while highlighting the type of entertainment that a casino could bring to Richmond.
“I will be here though. I love music," Davis said. "Get the people to come."
But Yox said it felt disingenuous and distracted from what she considered to be real issues with the casino, such as Urban One potentially being delisted from NASDAQ for financial reporting irregularities.
“The optics of a for-profit company bringing in a party and saying, ‘Look how benevolent we are, we want to throw you this party because we are your friend’ is inherently untruthful," Yox said.
Kelly said all are welcome regardless of how they're voting, although he hopes they vote "yes."
The event required attendees to register for a ticket in advance and is now at capacity. Organizers are encouraging carpooling and ridesharing.
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