In Virginia, after narrowing the field of bidders for a resort casino down to three finalists last month, the city of Richmond has now eliminated Bally’s Corporation and its $650 million casino proposal from the shortlist of proposed projects, leaving just two suitors, The Cordish Companies and Urban One, in the running, according to a Wednesday morning announcement from Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s press secretary.

According to the official release, environmental factors, along with concerns regarding site access, and whether or not required approvals from non-city entities would be granted or extend the project timeline, all contributed to the Evaluation Panel’s decision to drop the proposed Bally’s Richmond Casino Resort and the project’s proposed site of Parkway Crossings from further consideration.

In a statement from Leonard Sledge, director of the city’s Department of Economic Development, mirroring those concerns, he added…

“We appreciate Bally’s interest to develop a resort casino project in Richmond,” while also thanking the “many Richmond citizens who have shared their thoughts throughout this process.”

The cut leaves only the Live! Casino & Hotel proposal by The Cordish Companies and ONE Casino + Resort, proposed by Urban One, left to be accessed by the Evaluation Panel. Proposed for a 17-acre site at 1301 N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard, the former would see the Baltimore-headquartered firm given permission to construct and operate a $600 million facility complete with a 250,000 sq ft casino and a 300-room hotel and as many as 18 restaurants and bars, while the latter would see a $517 million casino resort on a 100-acre parcel at 2001 Walmsley Boulevard, which is currently owned by one of Richmond’s biggest employers, Philip Morris International, featuring a 150-hotel, a 3,000-seat entertainments venue and 90,000 sq ft of gaming space.

Urban One, a minority-owned Washington media company announced in February that it was partnering with California-based capital market company, Peninsula Pacific Strategic Partners LLC, which owns Colonial Downs Group along with the Colonial Downs Racetrack in nearby Kent, as well as a growing chain of gaming emporiums (Rosie’s) in Virginia.

Both finalists were reportedly allowed to enhance their respective proposals, which are evaluated based on factors including: community impact and community benefits; location; direct revenue impact to the city; project feasibility and project sustainability; and economic development impact, according to the announcement from the mayor’s office.

Unexpected decision:

Meanwhile, President and Chief Executive Officer for Bally’s Corp., George Papanier said in a separate Wednesday statement

“We are disappointed and surprised in the evaluation panel’s decision. We are the best operator to partner with the city on this endeavor and we provided the largest financial package with the most economic benefit to [Richmond] residents and business owners. We were deeply committed to this project, as well as to becoming a responsible neighbor and member of the Richmond community. Should the city reconsider its decision, we would be pleased to reengage.”

A series of virtual public meetings held earlier in the month was recently concluded by the city, at which public comments were accepted regarding Virginia‘s only yet-to-be-decided casino project under current law. According to a source, many residents located in the vicinity of the site proposed by Bally’s objected to the resort casino, which would have also seen the city receive a one-time $100 million payment from the Rhode Island-based gaming company. Concerns from opponents ranged from a possible increase in crime to traffic issues, so much so that a public protest was reportedly held in recent weeks.

Relocation attempt denied:

However, when an attempt was made by Bally’s to relocate its proposed location,  the request was reportedly declined by city officials, who noted that the location in the Richmond’s Stratford Hills neighborhood near the Chippenham and Powhite parkways, was part of last year’s request for proposals.

Virginia Business also reports that The Cordish Companies’ proposal has similarly faced neighborhood resistance, with many of the same concerns expressed as residents of the Bally’s site. The plan from Urban One has reportedly been spared from as much pushback.

Selection process continues:

The capital city is the last of a handful of cities, including Danville, BristolNorfolk, and Portsmouth, in “The Old Dominium State” to consider a commercial casino and according to the announcement, the next phase of the “city-led community engagement” will begin in May when the Evaluation Panel communicates its recommended operator, location, and terms of the deal. The Richmond City Council is expected to vote on the matter by June, to be followed by a referendum on the November 3 ballot.

Last year, casino referendums were overwhelmingly passed by voters in the four other Virginia cities and are now moving forward across the southeastern U.S. state, while in March 2021, bids from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Golden Nugget and Wind Creek Hospitality were all rejected by the city of Richmond.