Amherst County Grassroots Blocks Rosie’s Referendum with Under $9,000


Amherst County voters killed a proposal to bring a Rosie’s Gaming Emporium by the Colonial Downs Group, voting 54.06 percent to 45.94 percent of about 13,000 total votes, according to partial unofficial results. A couple of hours’ drive away, Emporia voters approved a similar proposal, 65.63 percent to 34.37 percent of about 2,000 total votes. The referenda were to approve pari-mutuel wagering, a slots-like gaming experience based on horse racing results.

PACs to fund local campaign efforts received $371,000. The Emporia PAC reported $127,223 in receipts through October 20, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. The Amherst effort reported $247,500 in contributions, and spent $80,387 by the October 20 report date. That’s about ten times the money that Amherst locals raised to support their grassroots opposition campaign.

We had a GoFundMe to raise money for a billboard, yard signs and some Facebook ads,” Tobey Thurston said.

Small Dollar Grassroots Beats Colonial Downs Group

Thurston is one of the leaders of Amherst Citizens Against Rosie’s. Gene Drake, another leader of the group, said on Facebook that they raised $8,900 and spent $8,700.

“We spent about $3,500 on Facebook advertising and our advertisements reached just over 34,000 unique devices based within 12 miles of the courthouse. So if one person saw us on both their phone and their iPad they would’ve been considered two. That said, the ads generated over 6,500 engagements, click to read etc., and apparently was very effective. Together with one billboard a few banners and our yard signs that made up all of the stones we had in our bag,” Drake wrote in a Facebook post to the group, which he warned they were closing now that their work was done.

Thurston said the billboard ran for two months, and they also had some yard signs and banners. Stop Predatory Gambling National Director Les Bernal came and spoke at a rally. Thurston said they didn’t receive any other help, and local politicians did not support them.

“It was just a group of citizens that did the legwork. We had no one help us. We had no staff or campaign anything,” she said. “There was really no ‘leader.’ Gene Drake and I organized the group but it was a group effort to get it voted down.”

Rosie’s was the top-tier Presenting Sponsor of the 2021 Amherst County Fair. Amherst County Citizens Against Rosie’s was a bottom-tier sponsor. Thurston said Rosie’s spent about $10,000 for the sponsorship.

Thurston explained the group’s strategy: “We told the truth and let people decide for themselves.

100 Jobs and $800,000 in Tax Revenue for Amherst County

The Amherst County Board of Supervisors and the Economic Development Authority supported the proposal, which they said would bring over 100 new jobs and $800,000 annual tax revenue for the county.

Supervisor Claudia Tucker said the shopping center where Rosie’s would have been located needs over $1 million to fix a failing sewer system, a cost that the private owner can’t handle and the county can’t take on. Rosie’s would have paid for that and a facelift for the center.

Tucker said, “The average income here is not a lot. It would be like Christmas to the county.”

Tucker listed the reasons she supported the proposal: “The economic benefit to the county, fixing that shopping center, and the fact that it would have cleaned up that area and our former Sheriff saw no reason for it to bring in crime to that area, and quite frankly, would probably have removed a lot of the crime.

The Amherst defeat is an additional, smaller blow to the Colonial Downs Group, which was a partner in the One Casino project in Richmond that also failed in Tuesday’s election despite major campaign spending.

Colonial Downs Group Chief Operating Officer Aaron Gomes said in a statement to WSLS, “Colonial Downs Group and Rosie’s Gaming Emporium are disappointed with the outcome of the referendum in Amherst County. We would like to thank those who supported our effort, including the entire team at the Amherst Economic Development Authority; Supervisors Claudia Tucker, Jimmy Ayers, and Tom Martin; and the residents who helped us get on the ballot this summer. Other Virginia localities will continue to benefit from the jobs we provide, taxes we generate and partnerships we develop in the community. We welcome Amherst residents to come visit us in Vinton, Collinsville, Richmond, Dumfries, New Kent and Hampton.”

Tucker said the opposition came from fears about crime and from a moral perspective.

She said, “The whole county had an opinion one way or the other, and I knew it would be close, but I thought that probably Colonial Downs would prevail. Obviously, I was wrong there. I think that there were certainly a lot of churches that got involved in the anti-Rosie’s campaign. A lot of very strong members in our community got involved, but you could say that for both sides.”

She also said there was some confusion over the wording of the ballot question, which read, “Shall pari-mutuel wagering be permitted in Amherst County at satellite facilities in accordance with Chapter 29 (§ 59.1-364 et seq.) of Title 59.1 of the Code of Virginia?”

“I had people come to me afterwards and say, ‘Oh my gosh Claudia, I think I messed my ballot up. I meant to vote for, and the way it was written I just wasn’t sure.’ And so I think probably there was not good enough education done about the language and what it meant,” she said.

Tucker said there’s no chance for Rosie’s to come back any time soon.

She said, “I’ve had several of our adjoining counties call me and ask them to introduce them to the senior management of Rosie’s. They want one in their locality. And I knew this would happen.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Colonial Downs” by twnewsbadge. CC BY 2.0.



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One Thought to “Amherst County Grassroots Blocks Rosie’s Referendum with Under $9,000”

  1. 83ragtop50

    Isn’t it amazing that all the proponents can pint to is lost tax revenues? How about the damage such gambling does to families?