Cordish Files $100 Million Casino Lawsuit Against City of Norfolk

Posted on June 18, 2021

The Cordish Cos., which operates the Waterside entertainment complex in Norfolk, is suing the City of Norfolk over a new casino.

According to the lawsuit, Cordish executives said they had an agreement that gave them first rights to open a casino.

Instead, Norfolk partnered with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in early 2019 to begin a push toward casino gambling. Cordish officials then first began threatening legal action.

Norfolk voters ultimately approved the casino in November, and the Pamunkeys recently chose a name for the $500 million resort: HeadWaters Resort & Casino.

Now, though, Cordish officials have formally sued and alleged that the city reneged on a prior agreement.

Why Cordish is suing City of Norfolk

In its June 15 filing with the Richmond Circuit Court, Cordish is demanding $100 million in damages, as well as punitive damages and legal fees.

The suit is against the City of Norfolk. It’s also against the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) and Norfolk City Attorney Bernard Pishko.

Cordish wants a judge to void the Norfolk-Pamunkey deal to halt the construction of the project. Officials expect the waterfront casino-resort to open in 2023. It’ll be located next to Harbor Park, the minor league baseball stadium that’s home to the Norfolk Tides.

HeadWaters Resort & Casino will also be adjacent to Waterside. Cordish, through its Norfolk District Associates LLC, redeveloped the faltering Waterside entertainment complex in 2013 after leasing it from the city and the NRHA.

Cordish initially endured heavy losses before turning around Waterside and filling it was tenants. Company executives say they never would’ve taken on that “herculean task” if they knew Norfolk would’ve failed to support their casino ambitions.

A broken promise from Norfolk officials?

Cordish, which operates casinos in three US states, clearly wants one in Virginia, too.

In addition to coming up short in Norfolk, Cordish’s proposal was also the recent runner-up in the Richmond casino sweepstakes.

By Norfolk choosing the Pamunkey Indian Tribe as its casino partner, Cordish says it was shut out.

According to PilotOnline.com:

“The lawsuit says the city went so far as to lobby to add a clause to the state legislation at the tail end of the 2020 legislative session specifically designed to cut Cordish out. The last-minute amendment to prohibit construction of a casino on property owned by a housing authority, the suit says, ‘was solely done in a pathetic attempt to ‘fix’ the city and NRHA’s breach of (Cordish’s) Lease Agreement. The suit goes on to say Pishko and the city then tried to cover up the scheme by amending the exclusivity deal with the tribe to only be effective as far as it didn’t interfere with the Cordish contract — months after the city had lobbied for the housing authority clause that excluded Waterside from contention for any casino approvals.”

Norfolk officials maintain they had no responsibility to help Corish secure a casino.

They also say the Norfolk-Pamunkey agreement doesn’t conflict with the Waterside lease agreement.

Photo by AP / Timothy D. Easley
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