The Sands Casino in Bethlehem opened in 2010 and since then has turned out to be one of the most popular casinos in Pennsylvania. The casino has reportedly filed plans with the Department of Community and Economic Development in Bethlehem proposing a major multi-level expansion project that would increase the property’s size by almost 100,000 square feet, out of which 35,570 square feet would be added to the gaming floor.
Sands CEO Mark Juliano did not confirm the Bethlehem casino expansion project and was not willing to disclose any future plans but based on the 2015 Bethlehem audit which was released this week, Sands plans to invest $40 million in this major expansion and one of its main focuses is to increase the number of table games and space at the casino.
Sands already operates 237 gaming tables which is more than any other casino in the state. Table games at the Sands brought in $228 million in 2015 compared to the Parx facility in Bucks County which came in second place, bringing in $155 million. The maximum number of table games allowed in Pennsylvania is fixed at 250 and Sands would have to get the approval of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board if it wishes to go higher than 250.
In a statement appearing on The Morning Call, Richard McGarvey, a spokesman for the Gaming Control Board reportedly said, “Normally the executive director can sign off on a small expansion or the addition of maybe 10 tables. But any expansion of this level would need full board approval. No one has ever asked to go above the maximum before.” McGarvey also highlighted the fact that the gaming board has also not denied any casino expansion.
The $800 million Sands Bethlehem is an important tourist attraction in Pennsylvania with its casino, 302 hotel rooms, shopping mall, restaurants and concert hall. The facility employs close to 3,000 workers and attracts around 8 million visitors each year. A significant portion of the city’s budget comes from the $9 million in gambling taxes generated by the Sands facility. Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez confirmed the Sands expansion plan and said that the city will work with the Sands casino.
The Mayor’s South Side Task Force chairman Roger Hudak stated that the expansion would be a good thing for Bethlehem if it happened but said that there were quite a few factors that could influence Sands’ expansion plans. The first concern is that Pennsylvania legislators are contemplating allowing online gambling in the state and permitting slot machines to operate in airports. A decision on both these matters is expected within the next two weeks.
The second concern is that the Sands facility attracts close to fifty percent of its table games players from out of state, mostly from Northern Jersey and New York City. This out of state market could be reduced significantly if New Jersey voters approve a referendum in November to develop two new casinos in north Jersey.