Petersburg Told Virginia Lawmakers Bally’s Would Be Its Casino Partner Before Picking Cordish

Posted on: April 26, 2024, 07:39h. 

Last updated on: April 26, 2024, 09:21h.

The Petersburg City Council on Wednesday evening announced The Cordish Companies as its casino development partner. The announcement surprised many, as the Virginia city had only recently completed a Request for Proposal (RFP) that seemingly began the competitive bidding process.

Petersburg casino Virginia Bally's Cordish
A rendering of the Bally’s Corporation’s casino pitch for Petersburg, Va. City councilors in the Virginia town this week voted to go with a competing bid from The Cordish Companies called Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia. (Image: Bally’s Corp.)

Petersburg government officials were criticized in 2022 when the council seemingly hand-picked Cordish, the Baltimore-based company that runs Live!-branded casinos and entertainment districts across the country. Petersburg pledged more transparency this time around, but the Virginia Mercury has found evidence suggesting that much of the process remained completed behind closed doors.

The Mercury’s probe into the matter found a letter addressed to Bally’s Corporation signed by Petersburg City Manager John Altman Jr. that was to inform the Rhode Island-based casino company that it would be chosen for the Petersburg project. However, the letter was never sent to Bally’s but was only referred to the Virginia General Assembly.

A Petersburg council spokesperson told the media group that the letter was requested by state lawmakers who said the casino bill to designate the town for a casino license wouldn’t move forward without such a developer lined up.

Transparency Troubles

In the unmailed letter to Bally’s, Altman wrote of the city’s intent to move forward with the casino firm.

“This decision on the part of the Petersburg City Council is the result of an extensive vetting process,” Altman wrote. Altman signed the document on April 17.

A week later, Petersburg announced Cordish as its casino partner. City officials left Wednesday night’s meeting without addressing the media.

A resolution the city council unanimously approved endorsing Cordish explains that Bally’s was only a tentative pick.

On April 16, 2024 (the day before SB628 was considered and enacted), a letter of intent was received by the City Manager’s Office to proceed with Bally’s as the City’s preferred casino gaming operator with a demand that the City sign the letter of intent or face the bill being voted down or indefinitely tabled,” the resolution read. SB628 is the bill that designated Petersburg for a casino opportunity.

“In order to enable the bill to continue in the General Assembly, the Manager signed the letter of intent but returned it only [to] the original sender (not Bally’s), and Council did not formally endorse or formally authorize the City Manager to execute the letter of intent.”

The resolution goes on to explain that two independent consultants who reviewed the RFPs concluded that Cordish presented the best casino blueprint. Bally’s confirmed to the Mercury that it never received the letter of intent from Altman.

Questions Remain

It’s unclear why Petersburg didn’t simply name Cordish as its tentative casino partner when pressed by state lawmakers for a letter of intent. Cordish has remained interested in building Petersburg a $1.4 billion mixed-use development anchored by a resort called Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia for more than two years.

While there’s no concrete evidence to prove such a claim, Petersburg initially citing Bally’s might have been the city’s attempt to show it was considering each RFP thoroughly and not streamlining its Cordish pick again.

Bally’s presumably was a long shot in Petersburg, as the company is facing financing issues in building its $1.1 billion integrated resort casino in downtown Chicago. Bally’s has faced several recent credit downgrades and is amid a takeover effort by hedge fund Standard General.