In Virginia, the Petersburg City Council unanimously selected the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies to develop a $1.4 billion casino resort in three phases over the next 15 years.
Phase one would include a 230,000 square-foot casino, 200-room hotel, dining and retail. Completion would take two years following legislative approval for Petersburg to host casino gambling and a voter referendum in November.
In 2020, the legislature legalized casino gaming in five cities, as long as voters approved it. That happened in Bristol, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Danville. However, last year Richmond voters narrowly rejected the ONE Casino + Resort proposed by Urban One and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment. Richmond officials tried to hold a second voter referendum this year, but state Senator Joe Morrissey successfully urged lawmakers to prevent that.
The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) commissioned a study on the feasibility of a casino resort in Petersburg, either by itself or alongside a Richmond casino. The study, released on October 17, indicated both cities could support casinos.
It said a casino in Petersburg could generate $204 million in gaming revenue in 2028 and create 1,300 jobs, while a Richmond casino could generate $300 million and 2,000 jobs. With two casinos, JLARC said the Petersburg venue would generate $140 million a year in gaming revenue, generate $4 million less in local taxes and create 300 fewer jobs.
Cordish officials made it clear that the Petersburg project hinges on preventing Richmond from approving the proposed casino voters rejected last year. Cordish Chief Operating Officer Zed Smith said, “We can’t compete with another casino in Richmond,” just 25 miles from Petersburg.
Petersburg officials also strongly oppose allowing Richmond a second chance to approve a casino. Morrissey and state Del. Kim Taylor have proposed a bill to block a second referendum until Petersburg holds its own voter referendum.
Former Petersburg City Attorney Michael Packer compared Petersburg versus Richmond to David and Goliath, stating Petersburg would be the underdog in a lobbying fight. He said at the council meeting that “Petersburg will far more benefit from a casino than Richmond. This will allow the government to do its job with the resources it needs.”
Cordish has developed and operates casinos under the Live! and Hard Rock brands in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, St. Louis, Tampa and Hollywood, Florida. “Although we are in the gaming business, we are also primarily in the economic development business,” Smith said.
He noted the Petersburg casino resort would provide the city with an estimated $214 million in additional tax revenue over 15 years. “We believe we can and will do better than those numbers. Our job is to bring more people to Petersburg,” he said.