Sands casino 'steels' show in Bethlehem

May 23, 2009 6:00 PM
Staff & Wire Reports |

So far so good for Pennsylvania’s newest casino, a $743 million slots parlor which opened Friday in Bethlehem on the site of a historic mill where tens of thousands of workers once made steel.

The Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem opened about 20 minutes earlier than scheduled, with hundreds of gamblers (some of whom had lined up before dawn) pouring onto the casino floor to place bets on the slots.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. is counting on its first East Coast casino to boost its sagging bottom line, while residents and local government officials are happy to get the shuttered Bethlehem Steel plant back to productive use. Las Vegas Sands stock closed Friday at 8.96, down 0.42 for the day.

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Debuting with 3,000 slot machines and four restaurants, Sands Bethlehem becomes the eighth casino to open in Pennsylvania since the state legalized slots gambling in 2004. Even though Sands Bethlehem is a slot-only facility, electronic forms of blackjack, poker and roulette are available. Sands expects to draw five million visitors a year.

Pennsylvania slots must have a minimum 85 percent payback. In test runs during the week, the Sands slots measured at 91.6, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. The state’s casino industry grew 13.8 percent last month compared with a year earlier as it continued to expand its largely regional clientele.

Many of the gamblers who showed up Friday had ties to Bethlehem Steel, the onetime industrial titan that began producing steel in this eastern Pennsylvania city in 1873. Steelmaking ended more than a decade ago, instantly transforming the sprawling mill into the nation’s largest abandoned industrial site.

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