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Sands Bethlehem to be sold for $1.3B to Indian tribe

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Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem (file photo)
Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem (file photo)

Las Vegas Sands Corp. announced it reached an agreement to sell the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem to an Indian tribe from Alabama for $1.3 billion. The deal is subject to regulatory approval and would be the largest sale in Lehigh Valley history.

The buyer, Wind Creek Hospitality, a privately held affiliate of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, operates six casinos, track and poker rooms in Alabama, Florida, Nevada and the Caribbean. It runs a greyhound and horse racing track in Mobile, Ala.

Sands Bethlehem would be its largest holding.

“The addition of this fantastic team and property to our portfolio furthers our desire to secure a long and prosperous future for our tribe,” Stephanie Bryan, tribal chair and CEO of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, said in a statement.

“We look forward to working with our new team members and the community. … We are proud of our ability to become valued partners with communities surrounding our Wind Creek Hospitality properties.”

ADDITIONAL REDEVELOPMENT?

The news was met with cautious optimism from some in the development community who said a change in owners could revive plans to redevelop the remaining vacant properties on the former Bethlehem Steel property.

“The Sands has been a first-class operator of the casino and a great community partner, so we would hate to see them go away,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.

“I do believe it opens an opportunity for the remainder of those lands to be freed up for redevelopment, which is needed and very possible.”

Cunningham said the Sands in recent years has been focused on the casino property and not the other parcels in its holdings on the site.

STRONG PERFORMANCE

Las Vegas Sands Corp. built the 159,000-square-foot casino, hotel, outlet mall and concert venue for $800 million on the former Bethlehem Steel site, once one of the country’s largest brownfields.

The casino opened in 2009 and has about 2,500 employees. It consistently has been one of the top-performing casinos in Pennsylvania.

“Sands Bethlehem has become one of the leading regional entertainment and gaming destinations in the United States, and we are extremely proud of the positive contributions the property has made for Bethlehem, the Lehigh Valley and eastern Pennsylvania,” Sheldon G. Adelson, chairman and CEO, Las Vegas Sands Corp., said in a statement.

DISCUSSIONS ABOUT OTHER PROPERTIES

Las Vegas Sands Corp. is a majority owner in a multipartner group called BethWorks Now that owns a variety of properties on 60 acres of the former Bethlehem Steel site where the casino was built.

Cunningham said Bethlehem and the economic development community have been “actively engaged” in discussions about the remaining vacant and dilapidated buildings on the site.

“I understand the new owners are not so much interested in the new properties beyond the casino assets, the event center and retail, so I’m not sure what will come out of this,” he said.

“If the possibility is there for those properties to be in more active development-oriented hands, I think that’s a positive for South Bethlehem.”

Numerous developers have expressed interest in the site, Cunningham said, but “that’s not been the focus for the Sands right now.”

TRANSITION

Brian Carr, Sands Bethlehem president, said the casino’s importance as regional entertainment would not change “regardless of what the sign on the top of the building might read.

“I’m confident our entire team will provide a smooth and seamless transition for new ownership, while at the same time maintaining the strong level of guest service for which we have become known.”

Although Sands Bethlehem’s revenue represented a small percentage of the Las Vegas Sands $12.9 billion revenue, it was a top-performing regional property.

“We are pleased to have built a strong foundation that can be the basis for the property’s future success, and, more importantly, we are proud to have delivered on our promise of bringing thousands of good-paying jobs, generating significant economic impact and revitalizing a site of sentimental and historical importance,” Adelson said.

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