Sands Bethlehem Leads Opposition To Pennsylvania Gambling Bill

J.R. Duren July 15, 2016

The drama surrounding the future of an omnibus gambling bill that would allow Pennsylvania online casinos — as well as daily fantasy sports and more slots locations — took an interesting turn recently.

Sands Bethlehem CEO Mark Juliano threatened to pull all the company’s new investment in the town if Pennsylvania lawmakers decide to pass the bill. So far, the gambling legislation has passed the House and Senate but stalled.

It appears that lawmakers will now take up the legislation in the fall, after the Senate could not come to an agreement on the final form of the bill.

More slots threaten Sands revenue

Juliano was outspoken in his trepidation about the multi-faceted bill.

He told The Morning Call his worries about how the new bill would affect his casino comes in the context of doing business in the “highest taxed jurisdiction” in the United States.

“We’ve got a big investment here,” Juliano was quoted as saying. “I don’t know where they think all these new customers are coming from, but we’re certainly not going to continue to make a commitment to reinvest if they follow through with this.”

Juliano wasn’t alone in his stand against the bill. Senator Lisa Boscola’s office told The Morning Call she’d vote “no” on the gambling bill.

Expansion plans include more rooms, convention center

Over the past two years, Juliano has announced plans for several different types of expansions. One plan includes doubling the hotel’s current 300-room capacity and the addition of a Bass Pro Shops.

And, more recently, The Morning Call reported, Juliano is also considering adding a convention center and a bigger concert complex.

The Sands CEO reiterated his position to the publication, saying more slots would peel away customers and threaten expansion.

Juliano almost got his wish

The gambling bill in question, HB 2150, was stripped of some of the controversial slots — namely ones in private taverns and clubs — because it was seen as a dealbreaker.

However, an amendment was passed the final week of June that would allow slots at off-track sites and airports. But the biggest threat to Sands wasn’t off-track or airport slots, but the allowance for up to 20 new satellite casinos. Each of those “mini” casinos, according to the amendment, would be allowed to have up to 250 slots.

According to Juliano, only half of Sands’ business comes from a 50-mile radius around the casino. The rest, he said, comes from other parts of the state where, presumably, existing race tracks and new facilities would vie for the licenses allowed in the bill.

“The rest is coming from 90 miles away and beyond,” he was quoted as saying. “This is not good business by Pennsylvania. This only hurts a model that’s been working for a decade.”

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