The Cordish Companies Sue Norfolk Over Casino Plans, Seeks $100M in Damages

Posted on: June 18, 2021, 06:47h. 

Last updated on: February 13, 2024, 10:32h.

The Cordish Companies, the owner and operator of Live! casinos in Pennsylvania and Maryland, is suing Norfolk, Va. over the city’s plans to develop a gaming resort. 

Cordish Companies Norfolk Waterfront District
The Waterside District in Norfolk, Va, seen above. The Cordish Companies, which operates the destination, is suing Norfolk over its casino development plans. (Image: Waterside District)

In court documents, Cordish says it entered into an agreement in 2013 with the City of Norfolk to redevelop its failed Waterside District entertainment, nightlife, and dining complex. The filing was made in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond

Cordish argues that during the city’s tenure operating the marketplace, Waterside was losing as much as $3.3 million annually. By 2013, the Waterside facility was more than 90 percent vacant. 

Cordish, through its LLC Norfolk District Associates (ND), contends that it signed on to revitalize the Waterfront, but with one major caveat: if Virginia legalized gambling, it would have first dibs on building a casino in the city. 

That happened last year when the state passed legislation allowing five economically challenged cities to allow voters to decide on whether to authorize a single casino resort. Norfolk met the qualifying criteria to hold a local ballot referendum on the issue, and it easily passed last November. 

Cordish Seeking $100M

Norfolk shocked much of the gaming world when it decided to partner with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe on its casino project. The small Native American tribe has no experience building or operating any sort of casino, but does have the backing of billionaire Jon Yarbrough.

Yarbrough made his fortune in the Native American casino industry. He sold his company, Video Gaming Technologies, a manufacturer of Class II gaming machines, to Aristocrat Leisure in 2014 for $1.3 billion.

Yarbrough and the Pamunkey tribe are moving forward with a $500 million casino project located adjacent to the city’s Harbor Park baseball stadium. The resort site is just a short walk from the Waterfront District.

Cordish says it would have never agreed to redevelop Waterfront without the gaming clause. And with Norfolk going with Pamunkey, and allegedly violating its lease agreement, the company is seeking damages. 

“ND and its redevelopment contract were crystal clear: without the City’s commitment to making Cordish its exclusive developer for casino gaming, ND would not undertake the herculean task and significant economic risks of redeveloping The Waterside,” the complaint reads. 

“As a result, ND has suffered significant damages, including lost opportunities and lost profits, and brings this Complaint to obtain justice from the Court and to publicly bring truth to light,” the lawsuit concludes.

Norfolk Responds, Claims Defamation 

Norfolk City Attorney Bernard Pishko rejected Cordish’s claims in a statement to media outlet 10 on Your Side in Norfolk. 

Their complaint is not based in fact and is so defamatory that they asked that if I accepted their offer to receive a copy in advance in order to discuss a settlement that I would have to agree to not sue them for defamation,” Pishko said. 

“A filed lawsuit is generally exempted from defamation laws, but a pre-filed complaint is not. Their central allegation that the Waterside lease provides for Cordish to be the exclusive gambling operator is fiction,” he added.