The Cordish Companies was the first of three groups to make its public pitch to build a casino in the city of Richmond on Tuesday night, promoting a $600 million project that includes a 250,000-square-foot casino and 330-room hotel. Urban One and Bally’s, the other two finalists, will pitch on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Virginia, which launched sports betting in mid-January, is in the process of greatly expanding its gaming prospects. Along with sports betting, the state made it legal for five cities to have brick-and-mortar casinos. In November 2020, voters in four of those cities approved casinos. Richmond has has been on a different timeline, and voters there won’t have their say on a casino until November 2021, but the city is already considering potential partners.
The Cordish Companies has a well-recognized presence in casino gaming through the Live! casinos in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Florida. Adding Richmond would give Cordish three Live! locations along the East Coast corridor with venues in Philadelphia and suburban Baltimore. The proposed Richmond would be on Arthur Ashe Boulevard in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood.
Cordish, which has an agreement with FanDuel for its retail sportsbooks at the Maryland and Philadelphia properties, also has some local sports star power among its investors, including Pro Football Hall-of-Famer and Virginia Beach resident Bruce Smith and ex-NFL player Jermon Bushrod.
FanDuel is already a licensed operator in Virginia through the Washington Football team.
Job creation and community benefits
Zed Smith, Cordish partner and chief operating officer, led his company’s 30-minute presentation that emphasized job creation and community benefits. He drew upon Live!’s other successful casinos and noted the company’s emphasis on being “urbanists and community builders,” for whom Richmond would align with “our sensibilities as developers.”
Smith said the starting wage at the prospective casino would be $15 per hour and noted the average salary of an employee would be $60,000 per year. When asked during a public question-and-answer session how Cordish arrived at that figure, Smith said positions such as table dealers, who go through an eight-week training program, could achieve such a salary.
He also promoted Cordish’s tuition reimbursement plan as well as “clear pathways” to see where employees can advance within the company. Smith said there would also be targeted hiring in the Richmond area with a focus on workforce development that would include developing a gaming school and workshops in local communities.
In terms of economic benefits for Richmond, Cordish CEO Joe Weinberg said the full build-out, which would also include a 4,000-seat venue for live entertainment and 40,000 square feet of multipurpose space, would generate an estimated $7.5 billion in total economic stimulus to the Richmond area over its first 15 years. Cordish claimed it would generate up to 3,000 permanent new jobs at the new venue and 5,000 direct and indirect jobs during the construction process.
Weinberg also estimated $1.5 billion in gaming taxes to the state and more than $450 million in gaming taxes to Richmond in that span. Beyond that, Cordish said it would provide payments of $200 million toward community benefits, since the city is not paying for any infrastructure improvements related to the winning bid.
Some local pushback
“We say no to a casino on Arthur Ashe Blvd,” signs by the Diamond read. @cordishco, which is proposing to build Live! Casino & Hotel Richmond in Scott’s Addition is presenting a video to the community right now. Join the meeting here: https://t.co/LZxj0XropV @8NEWS pic.twitter.com/FMgXOWKaO5
— Laura Perrot 8News (@LauraCPerrot) March 30, 2021
Not everyone is in favor of having a casino in Scott’s Addition, as the Live! proposed location is the only one of the three finalists on the north side of the city. Scott’s Addition is home to Richmond’s brewery scene, is dotted with street murals, a retro bowling alley, and other destinations.
A flyer circulated in the area that read “NO! We say no to a casino on Arthur Ashe Boulevard! More traffic. Higher crime. Lower quality of life for us. Tell them to build it over there” was captured on social media, and the inferred racial overtones for wanting the casino on the south side of the city drew a response.
“We’re building a narrative of Richmond as a progressive city, moving past the painful history of the Confederacy, taking down monuments and building equity in our policies,” South Side community activist Amy Wentz told the Richmond-Times Dispatch. “Everyone is on this wave of thinking; and then here we go with this. People don’t value our neighborhoods equally.”