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Richmond casino-hotel bid to be decided by city voters in November referendum

In the run up to June recommendations to the council from the advisory panel, Bally's Corp, the Cordish Companies, and a partnership between Colonial Downs and Urban One are still in the running to develop their projects 

 

By Mark R. Smith, US Correspondent for SiGMA 
 
New casino/hotels have been approved in the Virginia cities of Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth. Richmond will now also follow suit,  having whittled down prospective candidates from six to three for the state capital.
 
Late last month the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos and Wind Creek Hospitality were removed from the running to build the project.

Remaining are Bally’s Corp., which would build on a 61-acre parcel south of the James River; The Cordish Companies, which selected the Movieland site near the city’s ballpark, The Diamond; and a partnership between Colonial Downs and Urban One, which wants to build on 100 acres owned by the Altria Group on Richmond’s South Side.
 
richmond mayor levar stoneyRichmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s office named seven city employees and two City Council members (who were not made available for comment for this article) to an advisory panel which is expected to make its recommendation to the Council by June. Approval would ultimately rest with city voters in a November referendum.
 
The proposals that did not advance were due to factors such as “lack of site control, concerns about the feasibility of financial projections, lack of organisational experience and/or deficiency of the proposal,” said Stoney (seen left), in a statement. He added that the preferred developers stood out because their proposals included “detailed financial and operational analyses.”  
 
Like many gaming projects of such magnitude, the casino/hotel will create hundreds of jobs, tax revenues and community impacts. The Cordish Companies’ projects its entry “will generate [more than] $7.5 billion in overall economic benefits, $1.5 billion in tax revenue and [more than] $200 million in incremental community benefit payments to the city [during] the first 15 years of the project,” said Cordish Chief Operating Officer Zed Smith.
 
As with other properties throughout the industry, these payments will help fund community services including infrastructure, education, health care, parks and recreation, workforce development and affordable housing.
 
Smith went on to say that The Cordish Companies’ Live! brand “has an unparalleled track record of successfully designing, financing, building and operating large-scale casino entertainment resort destinations in regional markets,” noting its development of Live! Casino & Hotel, in Hanover, Md.; Hard Rock Hotel & Casino projects in Tampa and in Hollywood, Fla.; and its new projects, Live! Casino Pittsburgh and Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia.
 
That familiarity and track record is crucial when pitching a new project, said David G. Schwartz, gaming historian at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He observed that the process of eliminating the number of license applicants in Virginia is similar to those in other locations in the US and abroad.

He called the Richmond government’s approach “deliberate,” noting that it has many factors to consider, notably the applicant’s financial strength and depth of experience.


 
“Something similar is happening in Japan, where each geographic area has one licence and there is considerable competition,” he said, “but experience is often among the deciding factors, since the licence grantees want all assurances when building a project that may generate billions of dollars in economic impact.”
 

Another part of the reason what transpires in Virginia is particularly interesting is that, given the expansion of the industry, there are only so many untapped markets left. “Massachusetts is the most recent rollout,” said Schwartz. “Two of the last states without commercial casinos are Texas and Florida, so they may be next in line. Georgia may also get into the game.”
 
It’s also notable that while adjacent Maryland has had its commercial casinos up and running for several years, the Oxon Hill, Md.-based MGM National Harbor is located on Interstate 95 directly across the Potomac River from the lucrative Northern Virginia market; yet none of the new Virginia casinos will be nearby.

With the virtual public meetings already held for the three remaining competitors, the advisory panel and the citizens of Richmond can start contemplating their next moves. Schwartz said it’s time to seize the best opportunity.
 
“With only so many places to locate casino/hotels,” he said, “what’s already on the market becomes more valuable.”

 

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