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Sands Selling Bethlehem Casino To Unlikely Buyer For $1.3 Billion

Sands Bethlehem sign

This time last year, the word on the street was that MGM Resorts International planned on buying Sands Bethlehem Casino. Given how eager MGM was to get into Pennsylvania and its potential online gambling industry, it made total sesnse. Especially considering Sheldon Adelson, the Sands Corp CEO, is notoriously anti-gambling.

That deal eventually collapsed. However, Sands did end up finding a buyer. And it is a group that may seem a bit out of left field.

Alabama tribe strikes $1.3 billion Bethlehem deal

The buyer in the deal is Wind Creek Entertainment. The group, which is an affiliate of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, agreed to buy the Pennsylvania casino for $1.3 billion.

Tribal Chair and CEO of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Stephanie Bryan offered some insight into why the group is expanding via an official press release:

“The quality of the property and dedication of the team members to genuinely engage with customers was evident from the first time we visited the property. The addition of this fantastic team and property to our portfolio furthers our desire to secure a long and prosperous future for our tribe.  We look forward to working with our new team members and the community to cement Wind Creek Bethlehem’s position as the premier entertainment destination in the northeast.  We are proud of our ability to become valued partners with communities surrounding our Wind Creek Hospitality properties.”

Wind Creek currently owns nine casino and racetrack properties in the US and the Caribbean. Alabama is home to most of them, however, the group also has properties in:

  • Aruba
  • Curacao
  • Florida
  • Nevada

Wind Creek is also in the midst of building a property in Mississippi just north of Biloxi. None are really of the same caliber as Sands Bethlehem though. For starters, this is the first property in the portfolio with table games. The Alabama properties use bingo-based slot games. The designation means the casinos run tax-free, easily generating revenue for the tribe.

Wind Creek is now the fourth group to acquire a Pennsylvania casino since December.

What is Wind Creek up to exactly?

While MGM’s motives to buy Sands seemed pretty clear, Wind Creek is a different story.

It certainly is not the first tribe from out of the Keystone State. Mohegan Sun opened up Mohegan Sun Pocono, for example.

So far, with its limited gaming portfolio though, it does seem like Wind Creek has no connection to any online gambling operators. Moreover, given Adelson’s anti-online stance, it is not like the company is inheriting a pre-existing plan.

The sale also casts Sands’ recent misstep in bidding on a mini-casino in a different light. Could Wind Creek be buying one property, intent on opening a mini-casino as well?

Sands now back to a destination business model

While Wind Creek is expanding in new and interesting ways, Sands is streamlining. Sands Bethlehem was always out of character with the rest of the Sands portfolio. In fact, it was the only regional casino in the company.

The Sands model is to build opulent casino resorts in destination towns. While Sands Bethlehem certainly benefitted from a proximity to New York City, it was never more than a regional property.

That is not to say it is not lucrative. Buying Sands Bethlehem makes sense in that it is one of the most financially successful casinos in the state. What is unclear is what else Wind Creek plans to take advantage of besides another revenue stream.

Photo by Andy Borysowski / Shutterstock.com

About

Jessica Welman is the managing editor of PlayPennsylvania. A longtime poker media presence, Jess has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the managing editor for WSOP.com.