Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem was due to begin construction on a 100,000-square foot expansion that would give it the largest gaming floor in the state, but plans have come to a halt amidst speculation regarding the sale of the property. Reports claim that the casino could be sold to MGM International for $1.3 billion, which has led to the delay in construction on the expansion. According to Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez, the Sands has prioritized the sale of the casino complex, while the $90 million expansion has been put on the back burner.
Due to an expanding player base, the Sands announced last year its plans for an expansion that would bring additional restaurants, a new poker room, and a larger gaming floor. The Las Vegas Sands Corp. applied for permits to begin the project, and even began preliminary work in January, but the project has now come to a complete stand-still.
“It’s my opinion, knowing how complicated these transfers are, that I felt personally … that it would be a very good chance that this transaction would take most of 2017 and I expected everything would be on hold until there is some clarity, whether the deal goes through with MGM or whether it does not go through,” Donchez said.
The delay of the casino expansion has dealt a big blow to city official, who had been looking forward to a boost in tax revenues. The Sands expansion would have also created a number of temporary and permanent jobs for local residents who now await the decision of the sale of the casino. Part of the plans for the expansion were to help accommodate gamblers who have long awaited a dedicated poker room, now players are set to wait even longer. Both Sands Bethlehem and MGM declined to comment about the decision to stop construction.
The Sands Bethlehem brought in more than $500 million in revenue last year, making it one of the most successful in the state of Pennsylvania. As it stands, the Sands employs roughly 2,500 people and has a 300-room hotel, an outlet mall, and a concert venue. The casino resort already attracts 9 million visitors a year and the more than $800 million investment could only hope to accommodate even more people annually.
The casino closed the exits near the building where the work was being done, as well as the parking lot in which the expansion was set to be built. All of this took place in January, when they also filed for building permits with the Bethlehem Bureau of Planning. Officials say that soon after work suddenly stopped, and the building permits were never picked up.
Conveniently enough the stop in construction came right around the time talks picked up between Las Vegas Sands and MGM regarding the sale of the property. Officials from the largest and second-largest gambling company have remained tight lipped about any negotiations that may be taking place, but an internal letter was sent to Sands Bethlehem employees in March notifying them that the casino had interest from a potential buyer. Shortly after, sources told the Allentown Morning Call that an agreement had been reached, but it would take at least six months for the deal to close.
It’s safe to assume that the two gambling behemoths have entered a due diligence period that usually takes place prior to filing with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to transfer the gambling license. This process in itself could take months for approval and so far the Gaming Board has received no such filing. Donchez believes that the process could take the rest of the year. With nearly five months of 2017 in the rear view mirror, it’s safe to say the expansion will not open this year, as originally planned.