Sands Bethlehem in for major upgrade as Adelson eyes Meadowlands

TAGs: Las Vegas Sands, mark juliano, meadowlands, Sands Bethlehem, sheldon adelson

sands-bethlehem-upgradeSlot machine revenue at Pennsylvania’s dozen casinos fell nearly 4% in September, with ten casinos posting individual year-on-year decreases. Pennsylvania slots generated $180.3m in revenue, led by the Parx Casino’s $28m (-2.3%), while Rivers Casino earned second place with $21.5m (-2.5%), barely nudging out Sands Bethlehem’s $21.3m (-4.6%). Only the two lowest-earning casinos – Valley Forge ($5.6m, +13.5%) and Lady Luck Nemacolin ($2.4m, +14.5%) – saved the month from being completely negative.

Earlier this year, Sands Bethlehem’s owner Las Vegas Sands was forced to deny rumors that it was looking to sell the casino. Mark Juliano, who took over as Bethlehem’s president following the abrupt resignation of Robert DeSalvio in February, now says the parent company is willing to invest in a major expansion program. Juliano, who formerly ran the stupidly successful Marina Bay Sands property in Singapore, told The Morning Call the two-year upgrade would include a new 75k-square-foot convention center and would double the number of hotel rooms to 600.

The plan also calls for the conversion of the old Bethlehem Steel No. 2 Machine Shop into a 110k-square-foot Bass Pro Shops that would connect onto the convention center. Juliano feels this conversion, which has yet to be approved by the city, could draw 2.5m to 3m customers per year when it opens in 2016.

The Bethlehem expansion is intended in part to counter regional competition from, among other places, New Jersey and New York. Ironically, some of that competition may come from Sands itself. At last week’s Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson raised eyebrows when he said he’d be interested in building a casino at New Jersey Meadowlands’ complex. There’s been talk of amending New Jersey’s constitution to permit casino operation outside Atlantic City but to date it’s only been talk.

Adelson has shown scant interest in casino expansion plans in the US northeast, including in Massachusetts, where his good buddy Steve Wynn fought long and hard to win the Boston area license. But Adelson called the East Rutherford, NJ site “a very attractive place” to set up shop, based largely on its proximity to Manhattan, which has so far been left out of New York state’s casino plans.

However Adelson called the Meadowlands “a two-edged sword” in that it could provide a “good” return on capital “for at least five or six years” but would also be vulnerable to the whims of New York City politicians seeking to add some casino revenue to their budget. Bottom line: as a major Republican party sugar-daddy, Adelson isn’t likely to commit to a project that can be easily neutered by politicians in a Democratic party stronghold.


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