Petersburg Mayor, City Council Defend Cordish Pick for Casino Referendum

Posted on: May 2, 2024, 08:51h. 

Last updated on: May 8, 2024, 10:27h.

Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham and the City Council are on the defensive after facing a litany of criticism for how they went about choosing The Cordish Companies as their preferred gaming developer.

Petersburg Cordish Virginia casino
A rendering of The Cordish Companies’ $1.4 billion mixed-use development for Petersburg, Va., includes a Live! Hotel & Casino. Petersburg city officials continue to defend its picking of Cordish for the casino undertaking. (Image: The Cordish Companies)

Petersburg voters will have the final say on Cordish’s proposed $1.4 billion mixed-use development targeting 92 acres near Wagner Road and Interstate 95 south of the downtown area.

City voters will be asked to support the project that will be anchored by Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia through a ballot referendum during the November 2024 election. If a simple majority backs the development, Cordish and the city will be cleared to move forward with the project.

There are plenty of skeptics, however, of how Petersburg went about arriving at Cordish as its winning bidder. From state Sen. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg), the very person who championed the Petersburg casino bill in the General Assembly, to a leading labor union in the commonwealth, city officials are facing a slew of backlash for their backroom selection and failure to hold public input meetings regarding the six companies that responded to the city’s request for proposal about a “destination resort.”

Parham, an independent who resigned from the Democratic Party last year after coming under attack for appearing in a GOP campaign ad for a state House candidate, defended the city’s process on Wednesday.

“We didn’t appease any groups or take any type of favors,” Parham said. “We did this for the people of Petersburg.”

City Officials ‘Unified’

In his remarks to the media, Parham also stood by the city’s assertion that a draft letter of intent naming Bally’s Corporation as the competitive bid winner was solely to satisfy a demand from Aird. Parham maintains that the state senator told the city government that such a letter was needed for the legislature to continue moving the bill forward to designate the city for a casino license opportunity.

We have a council of seven that is unified on the fact that we told the truth,” Parham declared.

As for the Unite Here Local 25 union that represents casino and other hospitality workers in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, threatening a lawsuit over the city’s alleged lack of transparency, the mayor said there seems to be more to that story.

I don’t know if there were some problems in Richmond with Cordish. I don’t see how because they have a solid family-run operation and take care of their employees,” Parham said.

Cordish, union officials say, is no friend of organized labor and has worked to keep its Live! casinos and entertainment districts free of unions. However, unions have still penetrated Cordish businesses, including in Maryland at the company’s flagship Live! Casino & Hotel. Cordish made no mention of union jobs in its press release about its Petersburg proposal.

Union Lobbying

Unite Here was a major contributor to Aird’s senate campaign last year. Aird ousted longtime state lawmaker Joe Morrissey from the Senate in the Democratic primary and won easily in the general election last fall.

Unite Here plowed $800K into Aird’s campaign. The Local 25 chapter reportedly favored Petersburg picking Bally’s, as the company is considered more union-friendly.

When Parham was asked if Aird preferred Bally’s, the mayor responded, “If I was in Richmond, I’d be able to tell you.”