Sands Bethlehem Rebranding to Wind Creek Bethlehem Nearing Completion

In early March 2018, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. announced that it had agreed to sell its Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem property in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Wind Creek Hospitality for $1.3 billion. In May of this year, the purchase was completed and now the branding transition to Wind Creek Bethlehem is just about done. So long, Sands.

Immediate tangent time. In my time covering the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas “back in the day,” my colleagues and I enjoyed going out on occasion when we had a break from work. I mean, we were in Vegas, who wouldn’t want to check out the casinos, the fine dining, and the great shows? I helped that most of it was on my boss’s time, but that’s neither here nor there.

One thing my boss loved to do was play Blackjack Switch. The Four Queens downtown was the prime location for that. So whenever he looked at me and said “Blackjack Switch,” I knew where we were about to go. And now here is where I get to my point. I can not imagine how disappointed he would have been had we walked into the Four Queens one night, only to find all of the Blackjack Switch tables closed. Night ruined (unless we had the foresight to know that it would have been that one night the dealer destroyed us). That feeling was what I envision some patrons of Wind Creek Bethlehem may have experienced over the past week.

Coloring up… all of them

In the process of rebranding, Wind Creek Bethlehem shut down some games. The casino posted a notice about it on its website, but I’m betting that most gamblers did not read it. Not that I blame the casino one bit – they need to do what they need to do and there’s no better way, really, to notify potential customers than to post about it on your website.

Sands Bethlehem

The old Sands sign

Last Tuesday, August 20, all table games except for electronic table games were closed down starting at 6:00 am. This was done so that all of the chips could be swapped out for new Wind Creek Bethlehem-branded chips. The games re-opened at around 10:00 pm that night. Fortunately, there were still live-dealer electronic blackjack, roulette, and baccarat games available, but the casino floor must have looked a little sad that day. If it makes disappointed gamblers feel any better, a) they can’t lose money if they can’t play, and b) the casino was losing money by shutting down tables.

This week, there were game blackouts on both Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, August 26, about 1,200 slot machines were turned off, though another 2,000 remained playable. Then, at midnight (so technically August 27), slot free play was taken offline until about 2:00 pm. Both of these things were done so that Wind Creek Bethlehem could upgrade their gaming systems.

One of the most daunting tasks in the rebranding was to remove the gigantic “Sands” sign on the old ore crane outside the property and replace it with a 3,880 square-foot “Wind Creek” sign.

Sizeable move for Wind Creek

Wind Creek is probably not the most familiar gaming name to most people, so the billion-dollar deal probably came as a surprise. The company is an affiliate of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama and now operates ten properties. It portfolio is centered in the American southeast, but it also has casinos in Nevada, Curacao, and Aruba, in addition to Pennsylvania. While Sands Bethlehem was one of Las Vegas Sands’ smaller properties, it immediately became Wind Creek’s largest.

It appears that the transition from Sands to Wind Creek was fairly smooth for the casino’s employees, as it looks like most, if not all, were asked to stay onboard. In a press release after the purchase was announced, Stephanie Bryan, Tribal Chair and CEO of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, said:

The quality of the property and dedication of the team members to genuinely engage with customers was evident from the first time we visited the property. The addition of this fantastic team and property to our portfolio furthers our desire to secure a long and prosperous future for our tribe. We look forward to working with our new team members and the community to cement Wind Creek Bethlehem’s position as the premier entertainment destination in the northeast. We are proud of our ability to become valued partners with communities surrounding our Wind Creek Hospitality properties.

Las Vegas Sands, the previous owner, is of course helmed by Sheldon Adelson, who wants to eradicate online gambling in the United States. While Sands Bethlehem was not interested in entering Pennsylvania’s online gaming market, Wind Creek Bethlehem is. It has not launched an online casino or online poker site yet, but it has acquired the licenses to do so. No debut date has been announced for either site.

Wind Creek also has ambitious expansion plans for Bethlehem. It has already allocated $90 million to build a 276-room hotel and another 42,000 square feet of meeting space. It also wants to convert the No. 2 Machine Shop (the casino is on the site of what used to be Bethlehem Steel) into a 300,000-square-foot adventure and water park, along with a 400-room hotel. That is expected to cost $250 million, of which Wind Creek is still looking for $150 million from investors.

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