Cordish Companies to Sue Norfolk Over Casino Plan with Pamunkey Indian Tribe

Posted on: November 5, 2020, 11:13h. 

Last updated on: November 5, 2020, 12:04h.

The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based real estate developer and casino and hospitality firm, says it will sue the City of Norfolk, Virginia, over its plans to move forward with a gaming resort.

Cordish Companies Norfolk casino Pamunkey
The Cordish Companies, which owns the Waterside District, opposes a casino in Norfolk that would be connected to its marketplace by way of the paved Elizabeth River Trail walkway. (Image: WAVY)

On Election Day, Norfolk voters passed a local ballot referendum that authorizes a casino in the city. Norfolk has partnered with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build a $500 million resort on roughly 13 acres of land adjacent to the city’s Harbor Park baseball stadium.

The casino site is within walking distance to the Waterfront District, a commercial marketplace owned by Cordish.

In a 2013 development agreement with Norfolk, Cordish agreed to invest $40 million into the Waterfront District. However, the contract stated that Cordish would be authorized to expand the dining and retail venue into a casino should Virginia legalize gambling.

The City breached its exclusive agreement with Cordish initially in 2018 and continued its breach thereafter. Regretfully, the City has left us no choice but to file suit to protect our legal rights, and we will be filing suit in due course,” said Cordish Chief Operating Officer Zed Smith.

Smith adds that it’s the first time in Cordish’s 110-year history that the company is bringing a lawsuit against a city.

Norfolk Casino Opposition

Norfolk’s decision to partner with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe has come with plenty of controversy. The Native American group is extremely small, has no experience operating a casino of any kind, and calls home in King William County some 90 miles northwest of Norfolk.

The Pamunkey Tribe is being backed by billionaire Jon Yarbrough, who made his fortune through Video Gaming Technologies, a gaming manufacturer that supplies Class I and II gaming machines to Indian casinos.

Just a week before the election, allegations from the Norfolk casino opposition said the Pamunkey’s enrollment criteria was racist. Jasmine Anderson claims her family has been denied membership with the tribe because of her African ancestry.

Jay Smith, the tribe’s spokesperson, denied the accusations, saying the Pamunkey’s “membership practices are blind to race.”

Lawsuit Could Halt Casino

Smith says the Pamunkey Indian Tribe has the legal authority to proceed with its casino plans in Norfolk.

It wasn’t one part of the city that supported or opposed. We won 45 out of the 48 precincts,” Smith declared. “This is across the board the support of an exciting project.”

It was revealed last month that Cordish was funding opposition to the Pamunkey and Norfolk casino partnership through a committee called “Informed Norfolk.” Contributions came from Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse, PBR Norfolk, and Blue Moon Taphouse — three restaurants at Cordish’s Waterside District that are owned by the hospitality firm.

Cordish says the Pamunkey casino pitch “is not in the best interest of Norfolk or its citizens.”

Cordish owns and operates the Maryland Live! casino and hotel in its home state. It’s also building a $700 million integrated resort casino in Philadelphia, and a smaller $150 million gaming venue in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, called Live! Casino Pittsburgh.