The Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem is being purchased by Wind Creek for $1.3 billion. The casino, which employs roughly 2,500 people, is expected to undergo major changes. (Patrick Ellison/B&W Staff)

Change in ownership coming to Sands Casino

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The Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem is in the process of being sold to Wind Creek Hospitality from its previous owner, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. 

Wind Creek, a company owned and operated by a Native American tribe in Alabama, announced its intention to purchase the Sands in March 2018 for $1.3 billion. The Sands Bethlehem, which employs roughly 2,500 people, is a significant part of the local economy, contributing millions in fees and property taxes to the city budget per year, Alicia Karner, Bethlehem’s director of Economic and Community Development, said.

Multiple parties had previously considered purchasing the casino that opened in 2009. Tropicana Entertainment took the prospect under consideration, and in 2017, a deal with MGM Resorts International fell through.

The Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which owns the casino, is the largest casino company in the world, with properties in locations such as Las Vegas, Singapore and Macau. By contrast, Wind Creek’s major properties are largely located in Alabama, with others in Florida, the Caribbean and Nevada, according to the company’s website. This deal would make the Sands Bethlehem the largest property in the Wind Creek portfolio.

Wind Creek isn’t planning on merely utilizing the existing property, either. In January, Jay Dorris, Wind Creek’s president and CEO, announced that the company would be investing more into the site. Plans include a new hotel tower, event space, and even a possible indoor water park.

Wind Creek Hospitality declined to comment on this story.

As to the impact of the Wind Creek purchase, many are optimistic. Karner said she sees the sale as having a positive impact.

“It’s business as usual, so the property will transfer,” Karner said. “I don’t expect there will be any major layoffs or major hiring or anything like that. But, certainly the Wind Creek folks have announced that they’re poised for a significant investment within the site.”

Karner went on to note how the sale indicated Bethlehem’s value as a market and location.

“This is a big deal, I think, to put it mildly,” Karner said. “I think the biggest takeaway is that Bethlehem is a great place for companies, small and large, to do business, and we’re proud of the reputation, and of the possibilities associated with projects like this one.”

Other city officials showed more hesitation to the buyout. City councilwoman Olga Negron, who served on a city planning board which oversaw the original development of the Sands Bethlehem, noted the positive relationship the casino has fostered with the city.

“I think that although I, like many other community members, were worried about (the Sands Bethlehem) at the beginning, we were very proactive as a community in terms of making sure that things were in place that could actually help the community more than hurt it,” Negron said.

Those concerns were echoed by Lynn Cunningham, senior vice president at the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, but she noted the continuity that Wind Creek has committed to.

“We all have friends that are over at the Sands, and so my first thought when I heard about the sale, was ‘I hope my friends are OK,'” Cunningham said. “And they are. The staff is going to remain pretty much the same when Wind Creek comes in.”

While she noted that city council has mostly been kept out of the sale process, Negron expressed a positive but measured attitude toward the situation.

“I’m hopeful,” she said. “I mean, I’m worried, because you never know, but I’m hopeful that this will be a smooth transition.”

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