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Pennsylvania recently legalized online poker and casino games. This is the next installment in a series of articles about the casinos in Pennsylvania and their possible place in the online gambling market.
Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem sits on the site of the historic Bethlehem Steel Corporation. After 140 years as one of the biggest steel producers in the US, the site ceased production in 1995. The land then sat unused for more than two decades.
After Pennsylvania legalized casino gaming, Las Vegas Sands Corp. purchased the 127-acre property in 2007. The casino opened its doors as a slot parlor in 2009, joining an already crowded field of casinos in Eastern Pennsylvania.
After the state further expanded gambling, it added table games the following year.
The property added a hotel in 2011 and an event center in 2012. This marked new status as a full-fledged resort casino. As of this writing, Sands Bethlehem plans further expansion in the near future.
Despite its success (more on that in a moment), Sands Bethlehem has been the subject of multiple sale rumors over the years.
Owned and operated by Las Vegas Sands, Sands Bethlehem is one of the most successful casinos in the state. In fact, its revenue is rivaled only by Parx Casino.
The property boasts over 3,000 slot machines and 200 table games, including one of the state’s busiest poker rooms. Sands was also one of the early adopters of stadium gaming in the US; the Bethlehem property boasts a massive stadium gaming area.
The secret to Sands’ success is a good mix of slot and table game revenue. A full 40 percent of the casino’s gaming revenue is generated at its table games. Only SugarHouse Casino has a similar breakdown, as most of the other casinos in the market are heavily reliant on slot revenue.
Sands ownership is vehemently opposed to online gambling.
In fact, Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson is the leading voice opposing US online poker and gambling, going so far as to create an anti-online gambling lobbying group and backing legislation that would ban online gambling nationwide.
Because of this dynamic, the general consensus is that Sands is highly unlikely to offer online gambling.
However, in the hyper-competitive Pennsylvania market, the casino might find itself with little choice but to procure an online gambling license and launch gambling websites.
Entering its fifth year, neighboring New Jersey derives ten percent of its casino revenue from online gambling. Online gambling has also helped Atlantic City casinos discover new, younger customers.
If Sands doesn’t launch a gambling website, it would be handicapping itself in the market and doing its investors a disservice.
The only other option is for Sands to apply for a license and follow through with a sale and begin to leave the market before online gambling launches — likely in the second half of 2018.
Because of the company’s public stance, we ultimately know very little about its online gaming prospects.
If Sands offers online gambling, it should do pretty well.
A small segment of online poker players will go out of their way to avoid the site because of Sands’ anti-online efforts. But by and large, the company’s prior positions will have little to no effect on its performance.
The fact is Sands is a worldwide gaming leader and a top performer in Pennsylvania. It has the brand, the database and the money to run a successful online gambling operation.
The unanswered question: Can the company toss aside its previous opposition to online gambling to join the market in Pennsylvania?