The Cordish Companies Wins Bid, Hangs Onto Petersburg Casino Dreams

Erik Gibbs

A Virginia sign on a highway

The Petersburg City Council in Virginia has once again turned to The Cordish Companies as its potential casino developer, contingent upon the approval of a referendum by voters in November. The company beat out multiple bidders, including Bally’s, Rush Street Interactive, and others, in hopes of reviving the economically challenged city.

The decision was made after a closed meeting that lasted over an hour and a half on Wednesday, according to the Petersburg Progress-Index. However, it was met with a muted response from the council members, who left without providing comments to the press.

The Baltimore-based Cordish has a lengthy casino development track record that includes successful projects in multiple states. Among its many projects, it built the Live! Casino & Hotel in Maryland, as well as Hard Rock casinos in Florida.

Cordish has proposed a mixed-use development for Petersburg that could, in its estimate, potentially amount to a $1.4 billion investment over 15 years. The initial phase of the project includes plans for a casino, a 200-room hotel, and an event center.

The proposed casino stands out not only for its scale but also for its potential to create a significant number of jobs and drive economic growth in Petersburg. It’s planned in conjunction with Bruce Smith, an NFL Hall of Famer who became a real estate developer after his football career.

Petersburg’s casino saga continues

The history behind the Petersburg casino vote is a long-running saga of economic strategy and legislative maneuvering. When Virginia decided to embrace casino gambling in 2020, the legislation allowed one casino each in only five cities. The state chose Danville, Bristol, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Richmond as the targets.

Each was contingent upon the acceptance by voters in the respective areas. However, Richmond voters rejected the proposal twice, in 2021 and 2023, leading to Petersburg’s entrance into the conversation.

Cordish was among the finalists during Petersburg’s initial attempt to secure a casino in 2022. However, the process was fraught with political drama, as the Virginia General Assembly had to approve legislation authorizing a Petersburg casino referendum.

Lawmakers had initially attached a provision requiring the project to be approved a second time, which added a layer of complexity to the proceedings. Nevertheless, this requirement was eventually dropped, paving the way for the City Council’s decision.

Petersburg becomes the fifth element

Rivers Casino Portsmouth emerged as Virginia’s first permanent casino, offering a variety of gaming options including slot machines, table games, and poker tables, alongside sports betting at the BetRivers Sportsbook.

Hard Rock opened a temporary casino in Bristol in July 2022, with 900 slots, 30 table games, and a sportsbook. It’s developing a permanent casino that will take the number of slots to around 1,500, as well as more than double the number of gaming tables. It will also host a Hard Rock sportsbook.

Caesars opened a temporary casino in Danville in May 2023, with work still continuing on its permanent venue. It expects to open its new property before the end of this year.

Norfolk selected the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build a casino in the city; however, after more than three years, there hasn’t been any progress. It has had difficulty receiving approval for its planned construction schedule, and The Virginian-Pilot recently reported that the city could be looking for a new developer.

The voter referendum this coming November will be a decisive moment for the city of Petersburg.