RICHMOND — The chairman of one of the most powerful committees in the General Assembly laid down a marker in January for minority investment in casino projects vying for licenses in Virginia, including three pending proposals in Richmond.
House Appropriations Chairman Luke Torian, D-Prince William, an African American minister from Woodbridge, proposed applications for a state license to operate a casino include a minority investment plan. He said it would encourage developers to give an equity stake in their projects to minorities or minority-owned businesses, or at least show they are trying.
“I am very concerned that we are continuing to allow businesses to come into the commonwealth [and] operate without any minority equity ownership,” Torian told the House General Laws Committee, which approved the amendments to legislation introduced to make technical changes to the groundbreaking law adopted last year to legalize casino gambling in Virginia.
Constitutionally, he acknowledged the state can’t require developers to include equity investments by racial or other minorities, but the legislation, which casino developers supported and Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law late last month, is the state’s most forceful attempt to ensure minority investors and contractors share in the profits of a lucrative new gaming industry.
But minority investment is hard to measure in a casino industry dominated by big companies and billionaires who often provide the money to back ownership by minority investors.
In Richmond, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians offered two of the three casino resort proposals that didn’t make the city’s cut recently, while the remaining three candidates — ONE, the Cordish Cos. and Bally’s Corp. — are touting their commitments to minority investment and ownership.
ONE, a $517 million casino resort Urban One and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment are proposing in South Richmond, claims it would be the only Black-owned casino in the United States because its majority owner is a Black, family-owned media company based in Silver Spring, Maryland, with four radio stations in Richmond that focus primarily on African American listeners.
But Urban One would rely on Peninsula Pacific — a casino developer that owns Colonial Downs racetrack and Rosie’s gaming emporiums in Virginia — to operate the gaming business and provide a financial “backstop” to the majority owner. Alfred Liggins, president and CEO of Urban One, emphatically denies Peninsula would control the company or the profits.
Cordish, an established casino developer and operator based in Baltimore, said it is offering 50% minority ownership in the $600 million casino resort it has proposed at the current Movieland site in Scott’s Addition — the only project pitched north of the James River.
Bally’s, formerly Twin River, based in Rhode Island, is less specific about its commitment for minority investment in the $650 million casino resort it has proposed for the Parkway Crossing property in South Richmond.
Marc Crisafulli, executive vice president of strategy and operations at Bally’s, said the company would finance the project but would distribute a share of the profits to minority equity investors that it has yet to determine.
Ironically, Liggins acknowledged he discussed minority investment in casino projects with both Cordish and Bally’s, among others, as well as MGM, the majority owner of MGM National Harbor, a casino resort on the north side of the Potomac River in Maryland. Urban One has a $40 million stake in the MGM project, or 7%.
Liggins raised the issue of minority ownership in Richmond at the General Assembly in early 2020, when the legislature was debating casino legislation. This year, he said, “The General Assembly did something about it.”