Five Rival Developers Present Plans In Bid For Petersburg Casino Project

Written By Phil West on April 16, 2024
Bruce Smith, NFL hall of famer, speaks at Petersburg Casino Town Hall

While it’s unclear whether Petersburg will become the fifth Virginia city allowed to put up a casino, five different developers presented their visions for one on Sunday at a public town hall hosted by Virginia state Sen. Lashrecse Aird.

The forum, at the Petersburg Public Library, featured some key players in what will be a keen bid to create a casino within 25 miles of the state capital and less than 80 miles from the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro area.

The five presenters included four companies overseeing casino properties throughout the U.S. and a group aligned with a Virginia tribe on a revitalization project that goes well beyond creating a Virginia casino.

PENN describes vision for a Hollywod Casino in Petersburg

The first presenting entity, PENN Entertainment, was led by the group’s vice president of public affairs and government relations, Jeff Morris. PENN’s vision was for Hollywood Casino Petersburg, borrowing the branding from a similar casino entity in Maryland.

The team’s plan called for a $625 million destination resort on a 90-acre plot near the Rives Road exit of I-95, with a five-story, 200-room hotel, a sportsbook with ESPN BET branding to highlight that high-profile partnership, an 8,000-seat live music venue (involving PENN partner LiveNation) intended to “bring people in, gamers and nongamers alike,” and hiring a local workforce of about 1,000 employees.

The group also trumpeted partnerships with community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on some of its other casino entities as a mark in its favor.

Cordish Companies partners with NFL legend Bruce Smith

The second group presenting was a partnership between the Cordish Companies and Bruce Smith Enterprises, and the latter’s namesake, the former Virginia Tech football star and NFL Hall of Famer made clear the nature of the partnership throughout its presentation.

He declared, “The citizens of Petersburg have been waiting for this economic engine for generations,” and said his involvement with Cordish, whose Live! properties include Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland, makes him ideally positioned to deliver.

The group posited a $1.4 billion master development plan that included a 3,000-seat event center, a casino, two hotels, retail spaces, and more than 1,000 residential units on a 92-acre plot of land off the I-95 Wagner Road exit.

Rivers/Rush Street Gaming presents second casino opportunity in Virginia

Next, Petersburg citizens heard from representatives from Rivers/Rush Street Gaming, best known to Virginians for building and maintaining the year-old Rivers Casino in Portsmouth. Rush Street Gaming CEO Tim Drehkoff said of its plan for 75 acres off County Drive in the southeast part of the city that would create an estimated 1,300 jobs.

“We help communities grow by building casinos. Their economic engines, that’s our business. That’s what we do. We deliver on time, and we deliver on our promises … This is not a risk for us.”

Bally’s proposes its 18th casino nationwide

The fourth group presenting was Bally’s, with the group’s Amit Patel emphasizing, “Our casino is not in anyone’s backyard,” referring to a plot of land near Rives Road close to I-95 and I-295, which splits off from I-95 just south of the Rives exit.

Should Bally’s win, it would be the 18th casino property for the entertainment giant currently experiencing challenges in erecting a permanent Chicago casino.

The plan calls for 2,300 jobs to be created to run a complex that would include a 500-room hotel with one of four major hotel chains as a partner.

Warrenton Group and partners present plan modeled on Arkansas property

Finally, the Warrenton Group presented a bold vision involving Delaware North, a company touting itself as “a global leader in hospitality and food service management,” and the Upper Mattaponi Tribe.

The casino part of its plan is largely modeled on the Southland Casino in West Memphis, Ark., which Warrenton CEO Warren Williams touted as a success story. But the plan would also involve a revitalization plan for the historic Black community of Pocahontas Island in Petersburg.

While the PENN group touted its relationships to HBCUs, Warrenton noted that Petersburg’s HBCU, Virginia State University, is also a partner, and perhaps to match Smith’s energy with the Cordish plan, these presenters unveiled their own celebrity athlete supporter, former University of Virginia star and NBA Hall of Famer Ralph Sampson.

General Assembly will consider Petersburg’s options on Wednesday

The forum stretched well past its two-hour time frame, with a Q&A opportunity at the end featuring questions and comments from attendees, which included one person who professed to be an advocate for youth calling for the final plan to include an e-sports arena. That session also saw a Cordish representative call the “bifurcated” nature of the Warrenton plan into question.

Per the project RFP, “Bids for the project ‘must include’ a casino, destination resort, retail shopping, dinner and drink options, an event center and a hotel with a minimum of 500 rooms, with a preference for two four-star hotels.”

On Wednesday, the Virginia General Assembly will gather to consider all the amendments to legislation that Gov. Glenn Youngkin has offered, including one that will potentially affect the prospects for Petersburg citizens to approve a casino in the upcoming November election.


Image Credit: Chris O’Meara / AP Images

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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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