By the end of the week, Sands Bethlehem Casino will officially fall under new ownership. It will also adopt a new name:
Wind Creek Bethlehem.
On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) conditionally approved a joint petition to change control of the casino’s Category II casino license from Sands Bethworks Gaming, LLC to PCI Gaming Authority, which operates under Wind Creek Hospitality.
The incoming owner, an affiliate of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama, was instructed to pay a $3.75 million changeover fee. As a result, by week’s end, a more-than-yearlong process will come to a close.
But the beginning of Wind Creek Bethlehem is underway. That new beginning features big plans too, including:
- Interactive gaming
- Regulated sports betting
- Reducing underage gambling incidents
New ownership takes over Sands
In March 2018, tribal casino company Wind Creek entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement to acquire all equity of Sands Bethworks Gaming, including its Category II license.
Representatives from Wind Creek testified during Wednesday’s special meeting that it committed $1.4 billion to fund the acquisition and expansion efforts into Pennsylvania.
While that certainly appears a sizable sum, Jay Dorris, president of PCI Gaming, noted that more than 100 investors are participating in a loan to fund the transaction. He said it shows, “their belief in what we’re able to do, what we’ve accomplished, and what we can do with this property.”
Sands Bethlehem perks appeal to Wind Creek
Only Parx Casino outperforms Sands Bethlehem in total revenue. Sands also attracts an estimated 9 million visitors annually.
Add to it the roughly 8 million residents living within a 100-mile radius of the casino, and its close proximity to New York City, and Sands was an ideal acquisition target.
Wind Creek noted that the casino’s performance, “has not been meaningfully impacted by expansion in adjacent markets.” Additionally “potential expanded gaming opportunities” add more of a boost to Sands, which Wind Creek said has all the foundational pieces in place. As such, the new ownership group can build up rather than tear down and start anew.
“One of the advantages that we see … is that rather than put money into an old, tired facility to bring it up, we’re able to take money and expand it and make it better from the outset,” Dorris said. “We look for a long-term play. Our objective is to set these properties up so that we can capitalize on what’s there now, make them even more attractive and bring more people to them.”
Wind Creek offers first look at Sands plans
For the first time since it emerged as the buyer of Sands, Wind Creek divulged new details about its plans for the Bethlehem casino.
Online casino in the works
Recall that Sands representatives went before the PGCB to petition for an interactive gaming license in October 2018.
At the time, Sands conceded that it applied without knowledge of Wind Creek’s plans.
Dorris explained that the casino has yet to land an online casino partner but that Wind Creek is, “in active negotiations with platform providers.” Wind Creek said it aims to finalize a partnership soon after closing, thus allowing it to roll out an online product potentially within three months. Dorris said:
“Our transition is to activate the online … component as quickly as we can.”
What about sports betting?
Wind Creek said it was not as far along in securing a PA sports betting partner. Sands has yet to apply for a sports wagering license. But the ownership group definitely intends to add legalized wagering to the casino’s portfolio.
For the time being, Wind Creek said it is negotiating with providers in addition to analyzing sportsbook revenues and sports betting’s impact on the bottom line.
Asked if it was premature to ask for a timeline on sports betting, Dorris succinctly responded, “Yes.”
That’s not all…
Wind Creek has plenty on its plate as it readies takeover.
Add to the list that the group expressed interest in pursuing a satellite casino should the bidding process for a site reopen. Sands initially placed a bid in February 2018. The PGCB later rescinded the bid because the location overlapped an existing 15-mile radius of another casino’s satellite site.
Wind Creek also detailed plans to develop 42,000 square feet in event space and hotel rooms. Another 120 acres will be targeted to construct another tower of rooms and an adventure and water park.
The new owners think the additions could bring in as many as 1.4 million new visitors to the property each year.
Wind Creek ready to tackle underage gambling
When it comes to underage gambling, it is safe to say Sands Bethlehem has had more than a few issues regarding violations.
Brian Carr, president and COO at the Bethlehem casino, emphasized the property’s commitment to responsible gaming. He then detailed how Sands is in the process of implementing facial recognition software and ID scanners at entry points of the casino to better curb underage gambling.
“We’ve seen a 30 percent reduction in the number of incidents” of underage gaming, Carr said. He added that “our goal … is to remain tenacious and continue to work at it.”