Possible Sands Bethlehem Sale May Shift Pennsylvania Online Gambling Legislative Landscape
The increasing chances that the Las Vegas Sands-owned Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) casino may soon be sold, likely to be MGM Resorts International, also bold well for an increase in different chances as well, that being the likelihood that Pennsylvania legislators finally approve online poker and other forms of online gambling in the state.
The possible Sands Bethlehem sale has been floating around for about a week and a half, with details emerging in sports. It’s not a done deal as yet; neither LV Sands nor MGM Resorts, the prospective buyer, have made any securities filings or offered official press statements on the matter.
Yet something is afoot, and at least one Pennsylvania outlet has indicated the deal for the casino has already been done, in principle. About a week and a half back, copies emerged of a brief e-mail sent by Sands Bethlehem’s President, Mark Juliano, to the casino’s roughly 2,500 employees.
“We have been told today that Sands Bethlehem has a potential buyer; it is a sole buyer interested in purchasing the property,” wrote Juliano. “The sale is not imminent and there is a lot of work that still needs to be done before a sale is final.” Only late last week, in a separate news cycle, did local business-news outlets claim that the sole buyer was MGM Resorts and that only the fine details need to be hammered out.
The buying price for the casino complex, which also includes a 282-room hotel, is reported as close to $1.3 billion. That’s a hefty price for the complex, close to the top value of analysts’ varying estimates, though it has a long track record of being a profitable asset on LV Sands’ corporate ledger. That’s also despite LV Sands and its irascible CEO, Sheldon Adelson, shopping the property around for most of the eight years the casino has operated, and despite other plans floated by Sands about a supposed major expansion for the Bethlehem casino, including more gaming space and a second hotel.
That rumored expansion might have cost LV Sands as much as $900 million, had it gone forward (or if it ever does in the future). Adelson and LV Sands execs even used the prospective expansion as leverage against the online-gambling legalization efforts in Pennsylvania. LV Sands has fought hard in Pennsylvania to prevent such gambling from being authorized, just as it has on the federal level. That effort even included a bogus “push poll” funded by Sands lobbyists and the Adelson-funded anti-online-gambling group, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG). The faux poll was designed to fearmonger the state’s residents and sew doubt among any undecided state legislators.
Whether that really worked as Adelson planned is open to debate. Yet Pennsylvania appears on track in 2017 to become the fourth US state to legalize online poker, and one can wonder if Adelson is shifting his priorities. It’s true that a CSIG representative was on hand at last week’s four-hour hearing on the topic in Scranton, spewing the group’s same old bullshit, but to what effect?
If Sands indeed sells the profitable Bethlehem facility to MGM Resorts, one may see less of a CSIG-style presence at future Pennsylvania hearings. Along with that, there may be commensurately more of an effort to again pass RAWA (“Restoration of America’s Wire Act”) legislation at the federal level, in the hopes that any such federal law could wipe the nascent state-level online-gambling offerings away. Numerous news reports have attempted to examine Adelson’s close ties to the corrupt Trump administration, as it relates to online gambling in the US. Several members of Trump’s administration (including VP Mike Pence) are already on the RAWA bandwagon. But as for Trump himself… no on really knows.
Such meta-topics swirl around the reported sale of Sands Bethlehem to MGM. In a vacuum, the sale itself would represent a great shift in favor of legalized online gambling in Pennsylvania. Removing LV Sands as a stakeholder in the state’s legislative considerations would leave only rival Parx Casino as an opponent of online expansion among the state’s 12 casino properties.
Yet there’s more here. And we’re likely to see it played out in the coming months as these various story threads come together.