Gambling

Petersburg Casino Bidding Process Scolded by Virginia Senator

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Posted on: April 29, 2024, 09:16h. 

Last updated on: April 29, 2024, 09:16h.

How the Petersburg casino bidding process played out has yet another critic in Virginia Sen. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg), who led the effort to pass legislation designating the city for a casino license.

Petersburg casino Virginia gambling
Virginia Sen. Lashrecse Aird (in blue) speaks with poll workers in June 2023. Aird last week criticized the Petersburg City Council for its seeming lack of transparency in choosing The Cordish Companies as its preferred gaming developer. (Image: AP)

The Petersburg City Council last week unanimously selected The Cordish Companies as its gaming developer. Cordish and partner Bruce Smith Enterprise pitched the city a $1.4 billion mixed-use development anchored by a gaming property called Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia.

Immediately after Wednesday evening’s vote in which councilors departed the Petersburg Public Library without explaining the seemingly rushed vote, many critics emerged on concerns that the local government failed to properly vet the handful of applicants before picking Cordish.

Petersburg in 2022 during state lobbying efforts to pass legislation to allow the town to ask voters to approve a casino undertaking selected Cordish as its preferred partner in the scheme without a request for proposals. State officials last year said if Aird’s bill passed, which it did, Petersburg must conduct a transparent competitive bidding process, take input from the public, and weigh recommendations made by the town’s financial advisory firm Davenport & Co.

Aird says the council failed to comply with that directive. 

Aird Airs Opinions

In a scathing statement issued on Friday night, Aird rebuked the Petersburg City Council for lack of transparency. She also took issue with the council saying a letter it drafted identifying Bally’s Corp. as the winning bidder was only to satisfy Aird who had allegedly told the council that the casino bill wouldn’t move forward without a developer in place.

To have what was an honest collaboration characterized as ‘demands’ and that actions taken by the council were made under ‘duress’ is a blatant and transparent revisionist history aimed at distracting from council’s original intent — as demonstrated in previous years — to christen an operator that met their personal priorities while deprioritizing positive outcomes for the city,” Aird wrote.

Aird said Petersburg’s abrupt choosing of Cordish “demonstrates the ongoing struggle within the city’s governance.”

Davenport & Co. did say Cordish presented the best bid based on three factors — financial stability and funding capacity, overall development and investment, and the likelihood that the company would deliver payments to the city on time.

The advisory said Cordish partnering with minority-owned Bruce Smith Enterprise, the real estate company of Virginia native and NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, improved the bid for the city where nearly eight in 10 identify as Black.  

Davenport reported to the council that Bally’s presented a “strong lifestyle proposal” but questioned whether the company has the financial wherewithal to construct such a resort after recently receiving several credit downgrades. Davenport found little issue with Rush Street Gaming’s proposal other than that the bid did not include a hotel or nearly as many amenities as the Cordish and Bally’s pitches.

Davenport said Cordish, Bally’s, and Rush were the three finalists of the handful of applicants.

City Response

Petersburg city councilors fired back at Aird’s assertions that the local officials again seemingly picked Cordish without much input from anyone not sitting on the seven-person board. Councilman Marlow Jones (Ward 1) shared his thoughts on social media.

“I’m about to tell it ALL!!,” Jones posted on his Facebook page. “Y’all keep thinking city council is shady. You might wanna look above and beyond reach!”

City officials said the letter of intent addressed to Bally’s was only to satisfy Aird.

“In order to enable the bill to continue in the General Assembly, [Petersburg City] Manager [John Altman Jr.] signed the letter of intent but returned it only [to] the original sender (not Bally’s), and council did not formally endorse or formally authorize the city manager to execute the letter of intent,” the city defended.

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