Leaning on its gaming experience of operating 15 casinos across 11 states, Bally’s made its public pitch to build a $650 million casino in Richmond on Thursday night, promising to make the Virginia city the centerpiece of what it calls its “Atlantic Coast Growth Initiative.”
Also notable was the $100 million upfront payment Bally’s has pledged should Richmond residential voters approve it in November to be the city’s casino operator. The city government will pick its preferred operator among Bally’s, Cordish Companies, and Urban One in May, with Thursday’s presentation completing a stretch of presentations among the three finalists in as many nights.
Virginia, which launched sports betting in mid-January, is in the process of expanding its gaming prospects. Along with sports betting, the state made it legal for five cities to have brick-and-mortar casinos, contingent on voter approval in each location. In November 2020, voters in four of those cities approved casinos. Richmond has been on a different timeline, and voters there won’t have their say on a casino until later this year.
Bally’s, which was rebranded from Twin Rivers in November, will have its own sportsbook. That was part of an extensive overhaul late last year in which it acquired Bet.Works to establish a sports betting platform and the Sinclair Broadcast Groups to extend its media reach. Both components were part of a plan to embrace the rising national popularity of sports betting as it rebranded 19 of Sinclair’s regional Fox Sports networks as Bally’s Sports, which took effect this week with the start of the Major League Baseball season.
Casino and project details
As a referendum vote on proposed casino resorts approaches, residents have questions on how Richmond would address the social costs of gambling.@Lyndon__G spoke to experts about how this could – and should – work.https://t.co/t15fiIuaOL
— VPM (@myVPM) April 2, 2021
Bally’s proposed casino location is on a 61-acre tract on the western edge of the city at the intersection of the Powhite and Chippenham Parkways, which also includes 24 acres of wetlands. Of the three proposals, Bally’s has the most space devoted to gaming at 117,500 square feet, which would consist of 90 table games, 2,500 slot machines, 30 poker tables, and a high limit/VIP gaming area.
In addition to the casino, there would be a 250-room hotel and 13 food-and-beverage options that would highlight local cuisine. One of those options would be a rooftop bar that overlooks the James River. There would also be a 45,000-square-foot entertainment venue with a 3,000-seat capacity and another 16,000 square feet devoted to an indoor/outdoor pool that would also include spa, salon, and health club amenities.
Bally’s also promoted its venue as “conflict-free,” noting it has no other properties within 200 driving miles of Richmond. That contrasts with Cordish Companies, which operates a Live! Casino outside Baltimore, and Urban One, which has an ownership stake in MGM National Harbor in Maryland and has partnered with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, which operates Rosie’s Gaming Emporium and Colonial Downs racetrack in Virginia.
Bally’s also promoted a “Richmond Rewards” program in which its points could be used at local businesses in the city that choose to sign on with the program at no cost. It estimates it could generate $30 million worth of growth to those businesses over a 10-year period.
Jobs and community outreach
Minority hiring has been a key component of each presentation to the public, and Bally’s has partnered with Thompson Hospitality, whose chairman and CEO Warren Thompson is the largest minority employer in Virginia.
Thompson said the minimum hourly wage for all positions would be $15 per hour, and he expects that to increase to $17 per hour by the time the casino would open in December 2022. He also projected the average pay rate to be $25 per hour, which would result in an average annual salary of $52,000.
Thompson guaranteed there would be 4,300 construction-related jobs and another 2,000 permanent ones that come with the casino. He also has union commitments through Laborers International Union of North America for local construction jobs and pledged to have the demographics of the employment structure match that of the city.
Bally’s also said it expects to meet the city’s goal of having at least 30% minority inclusion for construction opportunities and 40% for supplier and vendor opportunities.
With a substantial portion of the proposed casino property on wetlands in addition to traffic issues — Bally’s pledged there would be no access to neighboring Forest Hill and would create a new roadway — the Q-and-A session with the public following the presentation was more feisty than the previous two nights as multiple residents expressed ecological concerns.
Additionally, Bally’s has yet to secure some permits that would be needed for construction for the covered parking structure that would house up to 3,000 vehicles and have solar panels installed.