The Cordish Companies says it’s interested in building a destination casino resort near the convergence of Interstates 95 and 295 just south of Petersburg, Va. But the Baltimore-based gaming operator that runs Live! casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania says its Virginia project is dependent on certain legislative conditions.
Virginia in 2020 allowed five economically struggling cities to ask their residents if they wish to authorize a commercial casino development to spur new business activity. Four of those cities — Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, and Bristol — each subsequently held local referendums approving a casino undertaking.
Voters in Richmond did not. Capital city residents narrowly rejected a $565 million project called ONE Casino + Resort. The proposal came from Urban One, a Black-focused media conglomerate that contracted Peninsula Pacific Entertainment. That’s a Los Angeles-based casino firm that this week was acquired by Churchill Downs for $2.75 billion, beating out five other bids.
The Richmond City Council and Mayor Levar Stoney want to reask the city about the casino in hopes of joining the four other qualifying cities in approving a project. But state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Petersburg, Richmond) is seeking legislative approval to relocate Richmond’s unissued gaming license 20 miles south to Petersburg.
Petersburg’s local government leadership wants the opportunity. And the city recently found a major casino developer and operator to build it.
Cordish was vague with its Petersburg casino details during the company’s appearance this week before the city council.
The company said only that it would be interested in building an integrated resort at Wagner Road and Interstate 95, south of the city’s center if Richmond is prevented from further considering a casino. Morrissey, who believes Richmond asking voters again about a casino violates the democratic process, earlier this year convinced state lawmakers to block Richmond from holding another local gaming referendum until at least November 2023.
The Virginia General Assembly agreed with Morrissey that Richmond should hold off on a second casino referendum. That was until the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission completed its casino study on the economic possibilities of allowing a casino in Petersburg.
That study was unveiled last month. The commission concluded that casinos in both Richmond and Petersburg would be profitable, though each casino would generate significantly more annual gaming revenue if the other development didn’t exist.
Even though the regional casinos would make millions, that’s not what Cordish is going to do,” Morrissey told the Petersburg City Council. “This is no glitzy box on 20 acres. It’s a destination casino.”
Morrissey plans to introduce new legislation when the assembly convenes in January that would redesignate Richmond’s casino privilege to Petersburg. Morrissey says Petersburg has also endured tough times in recent years, and he believes a casino in the smaller city would still provide economic benefits to the capital region.
Virginia’s 2020 legalization of commercial gambling in the five qualifying cities stipulates that each casino comes with a minimum investment of $350 million.
If Petersburg is afforded Richmond’s casino opportunity and the capital is barred from pursuing a gaming project, Cordish’s budget would likely be considerably more than the $350 million minimum entry price.
Cordish, in recent years, spent $700 million to open Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia in the city’s Stadium District, and $150 million to open Live! Casino Pittsburg, a mini-casino in Westmoreland, Pa.
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