Competition is heating up for the right to develop a resort casino in Virginia’s capital city of Richmond.
The field widened to six last week with three leading operators in U.S. regional gaming, Bally’s Corp., Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos and Wind Creek Hospitality, joining the fray and proposing investments surpassing a combined $2 billion.
The others are already moving forward with theirs: Danville partnering with Caesars Entertainment for a Horseshoe branded resort; Portsmouth going with a Rivers-branded resort by Rush Street Gaming; Bristol selecting a consortium led by the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hard Rock brand; and Norfolk partnering with Virginia’s own Pamunkey Indian Tribe, which also has thrown its hat into the Richmond ring.
Richmond’s choice won’t be known until late spring at the earliest. It will be based on the work of an evaluation panel appointed by Mayor Levar Stoney comprised of two City Council members and eight administration officials and assisted by New Orleans-based casino consultants Convergence Strategy Group, which also led the Danville bidding process. The winning bid will then go before City Council and the Virginia Lottery for their endorsements and finally back to the voters for their verdict in November.
Of the three new competitors, Rhode Island-based Bally’s unveiled their proposal on February 22, promising what CEO George Papanier hailed as a “vibrant new attraction that is sure to turn Richmond into a dynamic tourist destination.”
NYSE-traded Bally’s, known until recently as Twin River Worldwide Holdings, owns and operates 11 casinos in seven states and has acquisitions in the pipeline for four more in Indiana, Illinois, northern Nevada and Pennsylvania. Their Richmond pitch, sweetened with a one-time $100 million payment to the city, calls for a $650 million resort encompassing 1.6 million square feet on 61 acres at the western edge of town and featuring a hotel, restaurants, shopping and a major entertainment venue. The company says it expects Bally Richmond Casino Resort, as it’s called, will draw 3.7 million visitors annually, generate $415 million in total revenues and provide the equivalent of 1,700 full-time jobs.
“Our proposal,” Papanier said, “represents an unprecedented project for the Richmond community that will embrace and showcase the city’s existing culture and traditions in an environment positioned towards entertainment and leisure.”
Golden Nugget and Wind Creek announced their proposals on February 24th.
Privately owned Golden Nugget, based in Houston, owns the famed Downtown Las Vegas casino of the same name and four casinos in Atlantic City, Mississippi, Louisiana and Laughlin, Nevada. Their proposal calls for 950,000 square feet of public space with a 177-room hotel, a 1,500-seat concert venue, events space, restaurants and retail and a 93,000-square-foot casino representing a total investment of $400 million. The company is offering the city one-time donations of more than $70 million for local education and affordable housing. The proposal also comes with a promise to share 5 percent of the equity of the project with two entities dedicated to expanding opportunities for minority-owned businesses in and around Richmond, one of them partly owned by former Virginia Lottery Director Richard Williams.
Wind Creek, the resort arm of Alabama’s Poarch Band of Creek Indians, is pitching a $541 million development covering 46 acres on Richmond’s South Side. Highlights include a pair of hotels totaling 500 rooms, seven food and beverage venues, spa and fitness facilities, a 67,000-square foot entertainment center and 100,000 square feet of gaming.
Wind Creek’s expertise extends to three casinos and a greyhound track in the tribe’s home state, a greyhound track in the Florida Panhandle, casinos in the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curacao and a casino in central Nevada. The company made a major addition to the portfolio in 2019 with its $1.3 billion purchase of Las Vegas Sands’ Sands Bethlehem in eastern Pennsylvania, now Wind Creek Bethlehem.
Impressive as these proposals sound, they’re facing competition already in place and pretty formidable in its own right.
Urban One, owner and operator of 55 radio stations, four of them in Richmond, and a cable TV network, holds a minority stake in MGM Resorts International’s MGM National Harbor casino hotel on the Maryland side of Washington. Its $517 million Richmond casino, however, would be the first wholly owned by an African American company.
ONE + Resort, as it’s called, would be built on 100 acres near Interstate 95 and feature 150 hotel rooms, a 3,000-seat concert hall hosting 200 Live Nation shows a year, an on-site TV production studio, a dozen food and beverage outlets, several of them minority-owned, 20,000 square feet of events space and a 90,000-square-foot casino managed by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, a Virginia historic horseracing machine operator and owner of the thoroughbred track and racino at Colonial Downs outside of Richmond. The resort would furnish 1,500 jobs and include $30 million of donations to various local projects.
“We stand ready to work with the city. Our proposal can’t be matched,” Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins said in a recent interview with local TV station WRIC.
After winning the bid for Norfolk, where construction could start later this year, the 200-member Pamunkey community, Virginia’s only federally recognized Indian tribe, proposed its Richmond casino last spring. The tribe wanted to build in the city’s Manchester section, but neighborhood opposition prompted a move to 24.5 acres on the South Side off Interstate 95. Plans there call for a $350 million resort with 300-room hotel with a spa, pool and fitness facilities and several restaurants. The tribe estimates it will attract more than 5 million visitors a year and provide 1,900 jobs.
“They are native Virginians, they are the home team here,” a spokesman for the tribe said. “So they want to reinvest locally right here back in Virginia.”
The Cordish Companies also wanted a Norfolk casino and claimed to have an agreement with the city to allow one at a $40 million dining and shopping area it developed as part of its refurbishment of the city’s Waterfront district. Later, when the state approved casinos it became a leading opponent of siting one in Norfolk.
The privately held conglomerate, based in Baltimore, known for its extensive holdings in commercial and residential real estate and urban redevelopment, entertainment and non-gaming luxury hotels, partnered with the Seminoles in the tribe’s Hard Rock casinos in Tampa and Hollywood, Florida, and has marquee casinos under its own Live! brand in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Its $600 million Richmond resort would be built in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood and feature a 300-room hotel, a 4,000-seat entertainment venue, multi-use events space, 18 food and beverage outlets and 250,000 square feet of gaming space.
In addition to community investments, Cordish says the project will employ three “prominent” minority-owned general contractors, provide 3,000 permanent jobs and deliver billions of dollars in positive economic impacts.
“Our project will be a key link in realizing the vision set forth in the Richmond 300 Master Plan for the development of a higher-density dining, entertainment, hospitality and commercial node connecting the Diamond and Boulevard developments to our site and the Washington Football Club training facility,” said Chief Operating Officer Zed Smith.
Details of all six proposals as well as the timeline and procedures for the process can be found here.
Mayor Stoney has not commented on any of the proposals, but he’s made it clear where he stands on casinos generally.
“It means more than just (tax) revenue,” he said at a media briefing earlier this month. “We’re talking about community benefits that are going to uplift our community and center around economic justice.”
Leonard Sledge, the city’s director of economic development, said officials will be looking for intensive public engagement that will include online forums and feedback from representatives of the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building, among other initiatives.
“In response to our RFQ/P, the city of Richmond received six proposals which our Evaluation Panel will review over the coming weeks,” he said. “Simultaneously, the city has launched a community engagement process to inform Richmonders of the proposals received, listen to citizens’ concerns about casinos, and facilitate discussions that result in the best possible option for Richmond voters to determine if the city will have a resort casino.”
Suzanne Perilloux Leckert, a managing partner of the Convergence Strategy Group, which oversaw the bidding process, says it resulted in six “really strong” bids, “which is not surprising given the size and potential of the Richmond area market. As the last remaining commercial casino license in Virginia, and its location in the capital city, this project takes on an even more significant and highly visible role. The city leadership has sought out a transparent public process from the start, and we will continue to aid them in that regard. State law stipulates the timeline for the Selection Committee’s decision and subsequent approval by the City Council, which we expect to be announced by early this summer.”