Petersburg City Council Chooses Cordish/Bruce Smith Casino Proposal

Written By Phil West on April 26, 2024
Meeting in Progress sign with closed door signifies Petersburg's decision to choose Cordish Companies for next Virginia Casino

In a surprise vote, the Petersburg City Council chose the Cordish Companies to build a casino in the city if voters approve one in November.

After a behind-closed-doors session Wednesday afternoon, councilmembers emerged after abruptly and unanimously approving Cordish and Bruce Smith Enterprise’s joint proposal. A vote had not been on the meeting’s agenda.

Interestingly, members of the council immediately left after the vote. They refused to answer questions from reporters, according to several media outlets.

Council did not offer a reason for choosing Cordish over other casino proposals

Petersburg received a chance to house a casino after Virginia lawmakers approved the city’s bid earlier this month. It was not one of the five cities originally approved for casinos in the commonwealth. But after Richmond voters twice rejected casino proposals, the door opened for Petersburg. It sits just 30 miles south of the capital city.

The meeting agenda on the city of Petersburg website said the reason for the closed session was to get legal advice from the city attorney.

Neither Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham nor councilmembers said why Cordish was selected over the other entities seeking a casino license in the city. The other four proposals came from PENN Entertainment, Rivers/Rush Street Gaming, Bally’s, and an ambitious proposal involving the Warrenton Group, Delaware North, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe and Virginia State University.

All five groups sent representatives to an April 14 public forum at the Petersburg Public Library. Smith, an NFL Hall of Famer and Virginia Tech alumnus born in Norfolk, was part of the Cordish presentation. At the presentation, Smith said his development team was partnering with the creators of the Live! casino and entertainment brand.

“The citizens of Petersburg have been waiting for this economic engine for generations.”

The $1.4 billion master development plan includes 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.

Council makes quick exit after vote

According to the Progress-Index, members of the Petersburg City Council refused to talk to reporters after the vote.

“Instead of sticking around to talk about the economic potential of that decision or the next steps in the process of pushing the idea to Petersburg’s voters, councilors quickly dashed to their cars in the Petersburg Public Library parking lot. Some of them declined to comment while others walked stone-faced without saying a word as they approached reporters waiting outside for reaction.”

Councilmember W. Howard Myers did respond to an email from the Virginia Mercury  on Wednesday evening.

“I am ecstatic about the potential transformative opportunities the Cordish Companies are to unleash.”

Myers also responded to the Progress-Index via email.

“The city of Petersburg has been grossly underrated and disenfranchised for decades.”

He praised Parham for leading “the drive to accomplish the greatest feats of a city broken by the color of its skin.”

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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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