Wind Creek Considering Indoor Water Park for Bethlehem Sands

Bethlehem Sands Indoor Water Park

As Lehigh Valley Live (link) explained, the old Bethlehem Steel building long was a part of Sands Corp’s plans for a tourist attraction.

Wind Creek Hospitality plans to diversify Sands Bethlehem Resort and Casino’s revenue streams by building non-gaming attractions like an indoor water park and convention center. Wind Creek, which is owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, is completing a $1.3 billion purchase of Sands Bethlehem from the Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Sands Bethlehem, which draws 8 million visitors a year, sits on 124-acres of land in the Philadelphia suburb of Bethlehem. The casino generates more revenue than any gaming establishment in Pennsylvania.

The Las Vegas Sands Corp. wanted to sell the property anyway, because of pique over a variety of recent developments: a local casino fee of $10 million, its security staff unionizing, and Pennsylvania approving online gambling. Besides, LVS gives every indication it wants to build a casino in potentially more lucrative New York state.

For its part, Wind Creek wants to leverage the successful casino it built into an even more lucrative property. For plans to do just that, it turned to Brian Carr, the long time manager of Sands Bethlehem.

Brian Carr on Casino Expansion

Brian Carr told The Morning Call (McCall) that he brainstormed all the ideas other developers have pitched to him over the years. The Sands Bethlehem complex has a lot of undeveloped land, including the area occupied by an old machine shop (No. 2), which is a bit of an eyesore on the site of a modern resort complex.

Over the years, many developers have given their ideas for what to do with the land. Brian Carr says he sent “pitch after pitch” to Wind Creek in the months after a handshake agreement was made on the sale. This gave the tribal gaming operator plenty of ideas for developing the site.

Machine Shop No. 2 Conversion

Brian Carr said to McCall that Machine Shop No. 2 is the key to development, adding, “That’s been a huge area of opportunity that’s sitting out there, and I think your mind is always crazy with all the opportunity that would be out there.”

It is not the only piece of the plan. Already, Wind Creek said it would spend $90 million on a 300-room hotel tower to add to the 282-room hotel already operating on the site (at 95% occupancy). The new hotel likely will have meeting space in it.

For Machine Shop No. 2, Wind Creek plans a $100 million project to reconfigure the historic building into some other kind of attraction. The early speculation is to convert Machine Shop No. 2 into an indoor water park.

Jay Dorris on Renovations

That is only one of several ideas, though, said Wind Creek President and CEO Jay Dorris. The chief executive said his company is eager to start development on the casino, Dorris said the company is conducting studies on the viability and opportunity of several different potential projects.

Only when the company’s executives find the best opportunity will they start on a building project. Whatever the ultimate decision will be, Wind Creek starts with a solid foundation.

Sands Bethlehem Expansion

The Sands Bethlehem Casino has a 150,709-square-foot casino floor, along with several restaurants and an outlet shopping center. Its event center is highly successful, presenting live music and other entertainers many nights out of the year.

Whatever is placed there, it will be the first real expansion since Sands Bethlehem opened in 2008. Previously, LVS has upgraded or renovated the resort, but not added new attractions. LVS did authorize a $12 million renovation of the existing hotel, a $6 million update to the poker room, a $6 million introduction of an electronic roulette studio, and $1.6 million investment in Emeril’s Chop House.

The earlier renovations or game additions were confined to existing casino gaming space. Wind Creek plans an expansion to what’s already there. It is not the first time that a casino operator in the northeast considered an indoor water park, as people who bought the Atlantic Club discussed a water park on two separate occasions. Whether it is popular with casino visitors is another matter — but it could be.

Why an Indoor Water Park Makes Sense

Gamblers are not the intended target audience for a water park. It is gamblers’ family members which attractions and shows often target. The idea is to create family-friendly resorts. A traditional casino trip involves a handful of gamblers or a couple.

An integrated casino-resort tries to draw in the entire family. While the gamblers in the family enjoy the casino atmosphere, the rest of the family enjoys the retail space, spas, exhibitions, and attractions in the resort. At night, the group comes together for dining and shows. An integrated resort vastly increases the number of people who might consider staying at the hotel, while diversifying the revenue streams.