Cordish Cos., a Baltimore developer slated to build a casino in South Philadelphia's Stadium District, has been dogged by allegations of racial discrimination against African American guests at nightclubs it runs in Kansas City, Mo.; and Louisville, Ky.
Complaints have centered on discriminatory enforcement of dress codes, but also included allegations that managers of Cordish properties paid white men to pick fights with African Americans to provide an excuse to eject the African Americans.
Cordish denied that the company discriminates.
"In our over 100-year history, there has never been a court finding of discrimination against us for the simple reason that we never, ever discriminate against anyone and the idea of such a practice is repugnant to everything that our company stands for," Cordish said.
Cordish's properties include South Philadelphia's Xfinity Live!, which has a dress code similar to the one that led to trouble in the Midwest. For example, the code bans exposed underwear on men, pants worn below the hips, and excessively long shirts.
Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, which investigates discrimination cases, said her office had not received any complaints about Xfinity Live!
"You can have dress codes, as long as you're not using them in a discriminatory way," Landau said. "Uneven treatment of people foments resentment and hostility, even if it's unintentional."
Prompted by allegations of racial discrimination raised in the spring by Unite Here, a labor union, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity launched an investigation into whether Cordish is a racist company, said Black Clergy's president, the Rev. Terrence D. Griffith. Results will be released July 16, after the NAACP's national convention in Philadelphia, he said.
As part of his research, Griffith traveled to Kansas City, Mo., home to Cordish's Power & Light District, which opened in 2007 and has been the site of numerous complaints. Another hot spot for complaints is Fourth Street Live!, a Cordish entertainment district that opened in 2004 in Louisville, Ky.
Since 2010 at least eight state and federal lawsuits alleging racial discrimination have been filed against Cordish in Missouri and Kentucky.
Five have been dismissed. Three are pending, records show.
In Kansas City there were so many complaints about uneven enforcement of the dress code that the city's Human Relations Department investigated and found that the dress code was not applied evenly to all races, a 2009 report said.
That year, Kansas City passed a law limiting dress codes, but business owners are still allowed to prohibit display of undergarments and sagging or extra-baggy pants.
"In the last three or four years, we have not had any problems," said Phillip Yelder, director of the city's Human Relations Department.
The most extreme accusation against Cordish may be that the managers pay white instigators - known as "rabbits" - to start arguments with black patrons to provide cover for kicking out the black patrons.
A federal judge in Missouri last month found no evidence to support the allegation that such a "rabbit" was used in a 2010 incident at Maker's Mark in the Kansas City Power & Light District.
The facts are "much more consistent with an ordinary bar fight," U.S. District Court Judge Ortrie D. Smith wrote in a June 15 opinion granting summary judgment to Cordish.
Meanwhile, Cordish's plan to build a $425 million Live! Hotel & Casino in Philadelphia with its partner, Parx Casino owner Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., is on hold until a Pennsylvania Supreme Court appeal of the license award in November is decided.
Market East Associates L.P., which wanted to build a casino at Eighth and Market Streets in Center City, and the owners of SugarHouse Casino have argued that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board did not follow the law when it awarded the city's second casino license to the Cordish-Greenwood partnership. Discrimination was not alleged.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board found that Cordish was suitable for a casino license.
The records officials looked at are not public, but typically go into great detail, say those who have undergone the reviews.
Cordish underwent a similar suitability review in Massachusetts, where it also was found suitable but failed to win a license.
"There are no credible media reports that impact on the applicant's suitability," the Massachusetts gambling regulators' July 2013 report said.