by Michael J. Shapiro | June 04, 2019

At long last, Wind Creek Hospitality has finalized its $1.3 billion purchase of the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pa. The deal, which was first announced in March 2018, had been expected to close by late last year or early 2019. Wind Creek, an affiliate of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, acquired the property from the Las Vegas Sands Corp. The new owners will rebrand the gaming resort as Wind Creek Bethlehem, with the name change expected to occur within 90 days.

The Vegas-style resort is on the grounds of the historic Bethlehem Steel site, in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, about 80 miles from New York City. Sands Bethlehem was the highest-grossing casino property in Pennsylvania in 2018, a record-revenue year for the state -- despite the fact the property itself experienced year-over-year revenue declines.

The Bethlehem resort currently offers a 282-room hotel, 183,000-square-foot casino, a variety of food-and-beverage outlets, a 150,000-square-foot mall and a multipurpose event center. But Wind Creek Hospitality, which currently runs nine properties throughout the United States and Caribbean, has ambitious plans for its newest resort. A $340 million upgrade and expansion investment will add a 300-room hotel adjacent to the casino; a 300,000-square-foot adventure and water park at the existing No. 2 Machine Shop Bethlehem Steel site, and a 400- to 450-room hotel next to the adventure park.

According to a Wind Creek spokesperson, the company currently is finalizing the redevelopment plans for the No. 2 Machine Shop and will likely meet with potential investors as early as next month. They hope to have the first new hotel tower open within 24 months.

Wind Creek has also disclosed to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board that its plans call for more than doubling the property's existing event space with the new construction, according to a report on LehighValleyLive.com. Another 42,000 square feet is expected to debut, bringing the property's total to about 70,000 square feet, which would make it the largest meeting-space provider in the region.

The new resort owners intend to keep the resort's team intact. "One of the things that drew us to this property is the quality and experience of the service-minded employees," said Wind Creek Hospitality president/CEO James Dorris. "Each of the nine executives has accepted a multiyear contract with us, and we hope that all team members want to continue their work here as part of the Wind Creek family. We will need them as we grow the offerings at Wind Creek Bethlehem."

Las Vegas Sands Corp. chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson offered similar praise for the team in Bethlehem. "On behalf of our entire company, I would like to thank every Sands Bethlehem team member -- many of whom had been with us since the day the property opened in 2009 -- for their dedication and professionalism," said Adelson. "We wish them continued success."

Sands is turning its focus to large-scale international development, most notably the expansion of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and pursuing opportunities in Osaka, Japan, where officials are currently accepting resort proposals for a gaming development on a man-made island off the coast.

Wind Creek Bethlehem becomes that company's largest casino resort, allowing the company to expand its loyalty program and reach new markets.