Bally’s Out as a Potential Casino Operator in Richmond, VA

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Bally’s Corp. is no longer in the running to operate a casino resort in Richmond, VA. City officials have decided that the company’s plans didn’t completely align with Richmond’s vision and rejected its proposal, leaving only two more entities in the competition. The selection process began last month and is moving quickly toward the finish line. The decision should be reached soon, as the Richmond Evaluation Panel is expected to announce the final plans sometime next month.

Bally’s Dropped Over Environmental Concerns

According to a statement by city officials yesterday, Bally’s was eliminated over “concerns about site access, environmental factors, and required approvals from non-city entities that may not be granted or extend the project timeline.” They didn’t elaborate on the environmental factors that were at issue, but local support for the company’s proposal was extremely limited. The site it had chosen, in Richmond’s Stratford Hills neighborhood near the Chippenham and Powhite parkways, wasn’t seen as a good location and protests had been held recently to convince Richmond not to approve Bally’s. In response to the protests, the company offered to amend its proposal to select a new location, but no changes were allowed.

Despite the lack of public support, Bally’s still wasn’t expecting the result. Its president and CEO, George Papanier, said that the company was “disappointed and surprised” by the decision. He added that the company is “deeply committed” to the project and that it was willing to provide “the largest financial package” to the city. It won’t be able to dispute the decision, but Papanier added that Bally’s isn’t going to hold a grudge. The company already had plans to introduce online sports gambling in the state and those plans are going to move forward.

Richmond Casino Competition Down to Two

There are now two company’s in the running for Richmond’s only casino. The first is Urban One, which has proposed a $600-million ONE-branded property that would include a 90,000-square-foot casino, a sportsbook, a hotel with 200 keys, a theater and 12 bars and restaurants. Urban One is working with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, which owns Colonial Downs, on the project and has upped the ante since first coming onto the scene in Richmond. It initially had budgeted $517 million and expected to build 150 hotel rooms, but found access to additional funds that allowed it to expand.

The Cordish Cos. is the second candidate and hopes to leverage its casino experience in other states to appeal to Richmond’s leaders and residents. It also has budgeted for a $600-million property, but would offer 250,000 square feet of gaming space, 300 hotel rooms and 30 suites, an entertainment venue and additional amenities. The company is sweetening the deal, explaining to Virginia Business yesterday that it will offer over $200 million in “incremental community benefit payments” to Richmond during the first 15 years of the casino’s operations, should it be chosen.

Final Decision Coming Soon

Richmond’s casino selection panel is working to make the final decision and it most likely will come very soon. The panel will have its recommendation in place next month before sending it to the Richmond City Council. In June, the Council will vote on the plan and, in November, city residents will vote through a ballot referendum.

According to previous reports, Urban One has been seen as the most likely candidate to be selected. It has more local support than the other two have had and could emerge victoriously. However, Cordish can’t be counted out, as its newest financial pledge to the city will certainly be enticing. As history has shown, however, it might be more advantageous to listen to the will of the people and not focus solely on the financial benefits.

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