Labor Union Demands Petersburg Disclose How Cordish Was Selected for Casino

Posted on: May 1, 2024, 10:31h. 

Last updated on: May 1, 2024, 10:42h.

The Unite Here Local 25 labor union whose members are employed in casinos, hotels, and restaurants in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia is threatening a lawsuit against the Petersburg City Council over how it decided to pick The Cordish Companies for its potential casino development.

Unite Here union Petersburg casino Cordish
The Local 25 chapter of Unite Here is threatening to sue the Petersburg City Council on allegations of lack of transparency in how the local officials went about picking The Cordish Companies as its casino developer. The union says the Virginia city violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act in considering applications for the possible resort project. (Image: Getty)

Petersburg councilmembers are facing backlash for the local government’s seemingly backroom decision to select Cordish, the operator of Live! casinos, hospitality, and mixed-use developments across the country, as its preferred gaming partner. Transparency concerns are rampant, and Unite Here Local 25 is seeking full disclosure of how the council reached its pick.

The City of Petersburg’s actions show a shocking disregard for the law and democratic norms. Petersburg had begun a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) process that should have proceeded with transparency and fairness,” said Local 25 Political Director Sam Epps.

“Instead, the City Council apparently abused a closed session to discuss the selection of the casino operator. Residents of Petersburg have the right to open governance — a right the City Council doesn’t seem to respect,” Epps continued.

The union is demanding the full disclosure of all documents and correspondence related to the process. If the council refuses, Unite Here says a lawsuit will be filed.

Cordish and Unions at Odds

Petersburg’s casino RFP fielded six responses. Along with Cordish, Bally’s, Rush Street Gaming, Penn Entertainment, Delaware North, and The Warrenton Group expressed interest in the gaming opportunity.

Many thought the competitive bidding process was only in its early stages when the council last week surprisingly announced that Cordish had been deemed the victor.

The Virginia Mercury dug up evidence that the seven Petersburg councilors had initially chosen to go with Bally’s. A draft letter of intent identifying Bally’s as the winner was relayed to the General Assembly but never sent to the Rhode Island-based casino firm.

Cordish has a murky — at best — relationship with labor unions. Unite Here says the Baltimore-based firm that runs Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland and two casinos in Pennsylvania under the Live! brand has opposed organizing efforts at its casinos and entertainment districts.

In its press release announcing its selection by the Petersburg City Council, Cordish and co-developer Bruce Smith Enterprise didn’t mention union jobs while promoting the proposed $1.4 billion mixed-use development anchored by Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia would create “over 7,500 new construction and permanent jobs.”

Lawsuit About Transparency

Unite Here says its threatened lawsuit isn’t about Cordish opposing its labor group, but instead, deals with the city’s alleged lack of transparency and violation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA).

On April 24, 2024, the City Council held an unlawful closed door session at which the Council discussed a consultant’s report on the Request for Proposals, decided to withdraw the long-planned RFP, and rescinded its previous decision that Bally’s Corporation would be the preferred casino gaming operator,” wrote Unite Here Local 25 attorney Paul More. “Unite Here believes — and will demonstrate — that the City Council’s violations of VFOIA were willfully and knowingly made.”

Things indeed seemed fishy when city councilors hastily left the Petersburg Public Library on the evening of April 24 after announcing Cordish as the winner without taking questions from the media or providing a statement on how the outcome was reached.