Sands Bethlehem Casino Sale to Alabama Tribe Approved by Pennsylvania Gaming Regulators

Posted on: May 30, 2019, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: May 29, 2019, 02:40h.

The $1.3 billion sale of Sands Bethlehem to a Native American tribe based in Alabama has been approved by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB).

Sands Bethlehem Wind Creek casino
With a new owner, the former Sands Bethlehem will soon undergo a rebranding and major renovation and expansion. (Image: Wind Creek Hospitality)

The PGCB unanimously signed off on the ownership change from Las Vegas Sands to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which operates casinos under its subsidiary Wind Creek Hospitality.

Tribal representatives went before gaming regulators on Wednesday to explain their commitment to the casino resort, and provide examples on how they’ve become involved in the communities where they operate hotels and gaming venues. PGCB officials were convinced, and voted 7-0 in favor of the transfer.

Wind Creek will need to pay the state a $3.75 million license transfer fee. The deal could officially close as early as tomorrow. The leadership team employed by Sands is being retained.

Wind Creek owns and operates casinos in Alabama, Florida, Nevada, Aruba, Curacao, and now Pennsylvania. The transaction frees up money for Sands, which is embarking on a $3.3 billion expansion at its Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. The company is additionally focused on winning licensure in Japan.

Property Upgrades

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians won’t simply be renaming Sands Bethlehem to Wind Creek Bethlehem. Instead, the tribe plans to invest more than a quarter of billion dollars to vastly expand the property’s footprint.

The first phase is a $90 million hotel expansion that will add 276 rooms and 42,000 square feet of new meeting space. That will nearly double to number of occupancies at the resort.

Tribal officials are also studying the abandoned and decaying No. 2 Machine Shop at the adjacent former Bethlehem Steel site. The early blueprint is to transform the large space into a 300,000-square-foot water and theme park at a cost of $250 million.

We expect Wind Creek Bethlehem to be the best resort and casino in the Northeast,” the company explained in its presentation. That’s a tall task, as commercial casinos continue to spread across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

The tribe will be keeping close tabs on New York City. Sands Bethlehem has targeted Manhattan with daily bus service to and from the casino. But there are concerns that the most populated city in the US will allow a commercial casino to be built there in the coming years.

Community Partner

Following a devastating tornado in early March in Alabama, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians offered to pay for all 23 funerals of the victims. The tribe spent $184,000 to cover the final arrangements.

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said the Native American group first offered to donate $50,000 to help with the costs, but later said it would like to assist all 23 families. However, not everyone is willing to accept money from an entity that primarily makes its earnings from gambling.

In January, the tribe offered $25,000 to an Alabama church that was damaged by a tornado. The congregation decided to refuse the money, but nonetheless was thankful for the offer. The funds were instead given to other relief efforts surrounding the tornado.