The city of Richmond’s announcement on Wednesday of three finalist bidders for construction of a casino was almost as interesting for who wasn’t picked as for who was.
While Bally’s Richmond Casino Resort; Live! Casino & Hotel Richmond; and One Casino + Resort advanced, bids by Golden Nugget, Wind Creek, and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe did not.
City officials said previously that key factors for the Evaluation Panel would include each proposal’s site control, feasibility of financial projections, organizational experience, community impact/benefits, location, potential city revenues, and economic development impact. Whichever casino wins the bid would be able to offer retail and digital sports betting should voters approve locating a casino in Richmond.
“The top-ranked proposals stood out because the operators provided strong proposals with detailed financial and operational analyses to support their vision for a resort casino in Richmond,” city officials said.
There will be three public online meetings next week, with Live! Casino’s meeting on Tuesday followed by One Casino on Wednesday and then Bally’s on Thursday. Each meeting begins at 6 p.m. ET.
Next steps ’til November
The city is asking community members to provide comments on the shortlisted proposals via the Resort Casino webpage by April 6. On April 8 and 9, the Evaluation Panel will host meetings to report on the feedback received in the preceding six weeks.
After those meetings, the Evaluation Panel will continue negotiations with the three shortlisted operators, with the goal of recommending a preferred operator and site to City Council in mid-late May.
If the preferred operator and site is selected by City Council, then the council will petition the courts to include a referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot for all city of Richmond voters. The referendum will read:
“Shall casino gaming be permitted at a casino gaming establishment in [name of city and location] as may be approved by the Virginia Lottery Board?”
Legislation was adopted by the Virginia General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam earlier in the year to authorize the city to host a casino.
Pamunkey tribe’s firm objection
Among the proposals that were dismissed was one from the Pamunkey Tribe. The tribe’s response on Wednesday was swift and direct. The tribe was proposing a resort including a hotel and casino with 2,000 slot machines, 75 table games, and a sportsbook. It would have also had a spa, rooftop pool, and multiple live-entertainment venues.
“The Pamunkey Indian Tribe was extremely disappointed to learn directly from the City of Richmond that its casino proposal would not receive any further consideration in the Richmond casino selection process,” Pamunkey Indian Tribe Chief Robert Gray said in a statement.
“The timing of the decision, which comes before the public comment-period has even concluded, seriously undermines confidence in the selection process and suggests a predetermined outcome has been reached. The timing of this decision also suggests that public and community input will not be seriously considered in this process.
“Further, it appears that the City of Richmond did not afford the Pamunkey Indian Tribe the optional preference in state law that recognizes the Pamunkey Tribe’s ancestral heritage in the region. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe submitted the only 100 percent minority-owned, Virginia-based proposal.
“We were shocked to learn of our early dismissal from a process occurring in our native region and state, particularly in light of the fact that the Tribe was one of the first entities — if not the first — to talk to the City about gaming before commercial gaming was legalized in the Commonwealth.”
Bally’s going biggest
The largest proposal is by Bally’s: a $650 million resort, hotel and casino that also features the largest proposed upfront payment to the city at $100 million.
The casino would be built on a 61-acre parcel located at the intersection of the Powhite and Chippenham Parkways. Bally’s officials say they are conducting surveys and assessments to ensure “multiple access routes into and out of the property that are not only convenient for patrons, but also efficiently direct traffic away from local major roadways.”
The wooded surroundings, which include wetlands, would be “seamlessly integrated into its overall design,” they add.
Bally’s has the endorsement of the Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce, the Carolinas-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council, and the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce, and it promises to partner with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to provide education and training opportunities, internship programs, and prospects for long-term employment.
The finalists and the vanquished
The Cordish Companies, which operate Live!-branded casinos in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Florida locations in Hollywood and Tampa, propose a $600 million casino on the 17-acre Movieland theater site. Bruce Smith, an NFL Hall of Fame defensive lineman who now is a Virginia businessman, is backing the Live! bid.
A $517 million casino bid still in the running comes from Urban One — a Washington, D.C.-based media company that owns radio stations in Richmond — and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based owner of Colonial Downs racetrack. Their resort would be on property now owned by Philip Morris USA at Commerce Road and Walmsley Boulevard.
Urban One is touting itself as what would be “the only majority Black-owned casino in the country.”
The losing Pamunkey bid for a $350 million casino came in spite of a change of site four miles south of the original location due to community opposition.
Wind Creek, another eliminated bidder, operates casinos for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Bethlehem, Pa., and Montgomery, Ala.; and Aruba and Curacao as well as several racetracks. Its $541 million proposal would have been built near the Oak Grove/Manchester areas.
Golden Nugget’s $400 million bid was to be located six miles from the downtown area and 20 miles from Richmond International Airport. The casino brand operates properties in sites such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City, N.J., and Biloxi, MS.
Bids by Wind Creek and Golden Nugget came relatively late in the game, which may not have helped their chances.
Virginia recently launched mobile sports betting as part of an overall expansion of legal gambling there.