The casino sweepstakes has blown wide open in Richmond, with at least four major casino resort projects proposed on some of the most prominent properties in the city.
The city hasn’t said yet how many proposals it received by its application deadline on Monday afternoon, but aspiring casino developers have announced four projects, including one on the Movieland property in Scott’s Addition, another next to Powhite Parkway and Chippenham Parkway, and two along Commerce Road. State law allows the city to have a single casino, so the city will select its preferred operator.
All of the developers are making pointed pitches for minority investments in their projects, with at least three NFL Hall of Famers making star appearances, and the only Indian tribe with gaming rights in Virginia picking a new site for its proposed casino in South Richmond.
The projects include:
- a $600 million casino resort proposed on the 17-acre Movieland property by The Cordish Companies, a Maryland developer that already operates casinos under the Live! brand in Baltimore; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; and Tampa and Hollywood, Fla. One of its investors is former NFL star defensive lineman Bruce Smith, a Virginia Beach businessman.
- a $650 million investment by Bally’s Corp. on a 61-acre property at the northeast quadrant of the Powhite and Chippenham parkways in South Richmond. The project’s investors include two former NFL greats — linebacker Willie Lanier and defensive back Darrell Green.
- a $517 million project that will be formally announced on Tuesday by Urban One, a Washington media company with radio stations in Richmond, and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based owner of Colonial Downs racetrack and Rosie’s gaming emporiums. Their resort would be on property now owned by Philip Morris USA at Commerce Road and Walmsley Boulevard. Urban One would be the majority investor in what it says would be the only majority Black-owned casino in the country.
- a $350 million project proposed by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in the 5000 block of Commerce Road, about 4 miles south of the property it originally proposed 13 months ago, which is next to South Richmond neighborhoods that opposed the plan.
“We continued to look at every possible site throughout the city, and we came across this site the city has been trying to develop for years,” said Jay Smith, spokesman for the tribe.
The Pamunkey tribe “expects to be the only casino proposal with 100% minority ownership and 100% based in Virginia,” Smith said. “This is the ‘home team’s’ proposal.”
The applications were submitted before a deadline Monday in response to the city’s request for proposals to build a casino resort under a state law enacted last year that legalizes casino gambling in Richmond and four other cities.
Voters in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol already have approved proposed projects in those cities, but the state law adopted last year gives Richmond an additional year to choose a casino developer and project to submit to voters for approval.
A spokesman for Mayor Levar Stoney said Monday that the city will release the names and all proposed sites within the next week or so.
The city recently announced that an evaluation panel that includes two City Council members and seven administration officials will review the proposals with support from an outside consulting firm and make recommendations to Stoney.
The Richmond City Council will then vote on a recommended operator and location, paving the way for a local referendum in the fall.
The Cordish Cos. submitted an application to Richmond on Monday to develop the Live! Casino & Hotel Richmond, modeled on the same brand as casino resorts in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and two cities in Florida. The project would include a hotel with 300 rooms and 30 suites, a 4,000-person live entertainment venue and 250,000 square feet of gaming space.
“No gaming or development company in the country has our track record of successfully designing, financing, building and operating large-scale casino entertainment resort destinations in regional markets,” said Zed Smith, chief operating officer and partner at Cordish.
“Every commitment, program and goal contained in our proposal has been successfully achieved time and again by us in other cities in the country,” Smith said in a statement announcing the project. “Our commitment to excellence, creating memorable guest experiences and treating our team members and communities like family is our hallmark.”
Bally’s said its project would total more than 1.6 million square feet. It said in a news release that its resort would include “a casino, sportsbook, hotel, resort-style pool, dining and retail outlets, and a flexible space for live entertainment and conferences.”
It said that in addition to Lanier and Green, its strategic partners include Warren Thompson, founder, president and chairman of the board of Thompson Hospitality Corp.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with Bally’s, the Lanier Family and Darrell Green on this historic and transformative project,” Thompson said in the announcement. “Bally’s has a proven track record of supporting local organizations and minority-owned businesses, and is committed to vendor diversity when sourcing products and services.”
Bally’s owns and operates 11 casinos across seven states. Based in Rhode Island, the company operated as Twin River Worldwide Holdings until it purchased the Bally’s name last year from Caesars Entertainment.
The proposed casino site in South Richmond is part of the 172-acre property that previously had been proposed for the Galleria Mall and had been pitched by Virginia as one of three sites in the area for the Amazon HQ2 project.
Bally’s proposed casino would feature 2,500 slot machines and 90 gaming tables, a 250-room hotel and a 3,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor pool.
The company estimates the project ultimately would employ 2,000 people and generate $415 million in gross revenue annually.
Soo Kim, Bally’s board chairman and owner of hedge fund Standard General, touted his ties to Media General, a former Richmond-based media company that dissolved in 2017 after it was purchased by Nexstar Corp. His role at Media General came after the company merged with Young Broadcasting and Lin Media in 2013 and 2014, respectively. (Media General previously owned the Richmond Times-Dispatch, but sold it and other newspaper holdings to Berkshire Hathaway in 2012.)
“As a former director and the largest shareholder of Richmond-headquartered Media General, I have a strong interest in the growth, development and success of this great city,” Kim said.
The Pamunkey Indian Tribe had been looking for a different site after objections from neighborhoods near the site proposed on Commerce Road at Ingram Avenue more than a year ago.
The Pamunkey tribe submitted a proposal Monday to build a $350 million casino resort in the 5000 block of Commerce Road right off Interstate 95 from Exit 69. The project would include a 300-room hotel and casino with 2,000 slot machines, 75 table games and a sportsbook.
Cordish has opposed a casino proposed by the Pamunkey tribe in Norfolk, where the company owns the Waterside entertainment district. Cordish has threatened to sue Norfolk for monetary damages over the city’s deal with the tribe for a casino resort along the Elizabeth River. The company has contended the deal violates an agreement that would give it the right to build and operate a casino in Norfolk if state law were to allow it.
In Richmond, Cordish proposes to build its casino resort on property that now houses the Movieland at Boulevard Square movie theater complex. Last September, New York-based Bow Tie Partners offered for sale the entire 16.93 acres it owns at the northeast quadrant of North Arthur Ashe Boulevard and West Leigh Street.
“We plan to operate the theater for a while to come,” said Joseph Masher, the chief operating officer of Bow Tie Partners, on Monday. “We have no other comment beyond that.”
News of the casino proposal comes a week after Bow Tie announced plans to turn the parking lot north of its main building into a seasonal temporary drive-in movie theater. The company hopes to get the approvals from City Council so it can start showing first-run movies beginning in March or April and have them running through late October or early November.
Cordish operates the Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland in Baltimore, Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia, Live! Casino Pittsburgh, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, FL and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa, FL.
The company said its project in Richmond would include a 250,000-square-foot casino; a hotel with 300 guest rooms and 30 suites; a live entertainment venue with capacity for 4,000 people; 40,000 square feet of multiuse event space; and 18 restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.
“Our Live! brand is one of the most recognized casino and entertainment brands in the country,” said Zed Smith, the company’s chief operating officer and partner.
“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 [Team] training facility,” he said.
Staff writer C. Suarez Rojas contributed to this report.