Sands may sell casino in Bethlehem, analysts say

Sands Casino complex is lit up in Macau, the world's most lucrative gambling destination.
Sands Casino complex is lit up in Macau, the world's most lucrative gambling destination. (VINCENT YU / AP)
Posted: January 25, 2013

Although Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem grossed the second highest slots revenue in the state last year, and generated the most from table games, Wall Street gaming analysts say parent company Las Vegas Sands Corp. may be looking to unload it to focus on developments in Asia and Europe.

The Las Vegas-based giant, which owns the Venetian and Palazzo on the Strip, was among the first major American gambling companies to establish a presence in Macau, a tiny peninsula on the southeastern tip of China. It now has two megacasinos there.

Macau has become the world's most lucrative gambling destination, generating $38 billion in casino revenue last year. Steve Wynn and MGM Resorts International also have properties there.

But Las Vegas Sands has another hugely successful property in Asia: the $5.9 billion Marina Bay Sands that opened in 2010 in Singapore to huge crowds.

In addition, Las Vegas Sands chairman and chief executive Sheldon Adelson announced last year that he wants to invest $35 billion on building what he calls "a mini-Las Vegas Strip" in Spain to target the European market.

"The company is focusing on larger, international, integrated resort projects," with hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, theaters and gaming floors all under one roof, said John Kempf, a gaming analyst with RBC Capital Markets L.L.C. "I think they have operated this property well, but [they] can see how it can do better in the hands of an operator who can focus more intensely on Bethlehem."

Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese declined to comment on the issue.

If Sands Bethlehem changes hands, it will be the fourth Pennsylania casino to do so. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has approved three other ownership changes.

The seven-member board approved the sale of Harrah's Chester, now Harrah's Philadelphia, to Hamlet Holdings L.L.C. in 2007; Rivers in Pittsburgh to Holdings Acquisition Co. L.P., which is controlled by Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, in 2008; and Mount Airy Casino Resort to the DeNaples family trust last year.

"Given the concentration of cash flow they have that comes from Asia, and the small amount that comes from Bethlehem, should they find a buyer at their price, it would be a smart sale," said analyst Andrew Zarnett of Deutsche Bank AG.

In-state and interstate competition is growing for the Bethlehem gambling hall. There are new casinos planned for the Catskills in New York, plus one more in Philadelphia.

"The bottom line is the property has done extremely well," Zarnett said, "and with cost of capital extremely low, now would be a pristine time to find a buyer willing to pay a full price."

The Bethlehem casino generated $291.5 million in gross slots revenue last year, second in the state only to Parx in Bensalem. But it led the 11 venues in table games revenue with $146.5 million.

Las Vegas Sands has invested about $850 million in the property since it debuted in mid-May 2009 on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, including adding a hotel and outlet mall in the last two years.


Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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