The Pennsylvania gaming industry received a surprise last week with the announcement of Sands Bethlehem being sold to Wind Creek Hospitality, a Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama subsidiary, for $1.3 billion.
Sands Bethlehem boasts nearly the best revenues in the state (narrowly losing to Parx thanks to the latter’s lead on slots, though Sands is way ahead on table games.)
The casino is also a lynchpin in the local economy, not only providing thousands of jobs but also causing the development of a successful hotel, an event center, and a popular shopping mall.
While until now it has been one of the smaller properties in the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, it will become the largest casino that Wind Creek manages.
For all these reasons Pennsylvania is left with many questions about Wind Creek and its owners – the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama.
Poarch Band of Creek Indians Tribal history
While many of the other tribes were removed from the area in the 1830s, several Muskogee were allowed to remain after renouncing their membership in the Creek Nation.
However, their descendants maintained their cultural identity and successfully petitioned the US government to recognize their sovereignty in the early 1980s. As a result the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are the only Federally recognized tribe in Alabama (though the state does recognize a few other Creek tribes).
A reservation was established for the Poarch Band in Escambia County, and the tribe quickly set about opening its first gaming enterprise: the 1,500 seat Creek Bingo Palace. The success of the bingo hall led to additional properties and the tribe enjoying great economic prosperity.
Other Wind Creek properties
Wind Creek currently owns three casinos in Alabama, as well as a number of poker rooms and greyhound racetracks in the nearby Florida panhandle.
In recent years the group has been attempting to further expand outside its region, leveraging its cash flow by acquiring or developing additional gaming properties. It bought land in D’Iberville, Mississippi in the spring of 2016 with the intention of building a casino there.
Later that spring it also opened the Wa She Shu Casino in Nevada, which it financed and managed for owners the Washoe Tribe. Later, an attempt to acquire the Margaritaville Resort Casino in Louisiana failed.
Last year Wind Creek also purchased two Marriott resort casino hotels in the Caribbean, the Renaissance Curaçao and Renaissance Aruba. This rapid increase in property has been ambitious, but Sands Bethlehem is the most significant acquisition to date.
As an unknown in Pennsylvania, Wind Creek Hospitality will be under scrutiny both by its new competitors, and by locals in the Lehigh Valley area with a vested interest in the casino remaining a success.
The current Sands Bethlehem has been a boon to the region, and some are concerned that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians lacks the experience to successfully run a larger casino in a state with significantly higher taxes on gaming operators (casino revenues in Alabama appear to be untaxed).
Its inexperience operating table games has also proven a point of concern, and rightfully so — table gaming accounted for a staggering 44.6% of Sands’ gaming revenue in 2017.
It is believed Wind Creek will keep the current management team in charge for now.
Rumors have been reported that Sands’ recent bid for the fourth category 4 mini-casino license (which later fell through) was part of its arrangements with Wind Creek, who are apparently already looking to expand beyond the original property.
Also, with the forthcoming launch of online gaming in Pennsylvania the Poarch now have a chance to branch out into digital casinos. P
lans have not yet been announced, but it is unlikely a rising gaming group will waste the opportunity, especially not in comparison to the previous owner and notorious opponent of iGaming – Sands founder and CEO Sheldon Adelson.