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'Dough-maker' officially opens in Bethlehem

It was Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of Sands Las Vegas Corp., who best summed up the point of his company opening a $743 million slot parlor in Bethlehem, Pa.

It was Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of Sands Las Vegas Corp., who best summed up the point of his company opening a $743 million slot parlor in on the site of the old Bethlehem Steel works in Bethlehem, Pa.

Addressing an invited audience of politicians, media types and local VIPs at today's official grand opening of the Sands Casino Resort, the 75-year-old gambling tycoon noted that in Hebrew, "'Bethlehem' means 'house of bread.' What do you need to make bread? Dough. That's what we hope to make here."

And judging by the activity in the casino, just yards away from the ballroom where the opening festivities were held, it looks like the dough will be produced in the same kind of volume steel was created in the facility's former life. As hundreds courted Lady Luck on the casino floor, those assembled in the ballroom were treated to a brief, percussive performance by the three-man Blue Man Group (headliners at Las Vegas Sands' Venetian resort on the Vegas strip) and a series of typically self-congratulatory remarks by casino execs, local politicians and Gov. Ed Rendell.

Rendell used his time to brag about how much property tax relief revenue has already been generated by Pennsylvania's slot machine industry. He put the figure at "almost $2 billion in less than three years," and said that already, 120,000 of the commonealth's seniors are no longer paying any school taxes, while another 200,000 have had their bills halved since the inception of legal casinos.

Before the ceremony began, I asked the Guv if he had any words for the folks toiling in Atlantic City's gaming industry, which is suffereing at the hands of Pennsylavania's casinos.Rendell didn't specifically acknowledge the damage his state has caused to bottom lines in Atlantic City, nor did he seem particularly sympathetic. Instead, he offered a "just doing my job" kind of spin.

"I always said I wanted to...keep our gamblers in Pennsylvania spending their money here, and to create jobs here. We're not after (New Jerseyans who gamble). I just wanted to keep Pennsylvanians who gamble here."

Rendell had to leave the event early. That casued Adelson to assume the blame for the governor's departure, saying he guessed Rendell left because "I've been slipping him notes about how nice it would be to get some blackjack and craps tables here."

A little later, Gregory C. Fajt (pronounced "Fight"), the recently installed chairman of the state gaming control board, said he expected the state to have a handle on the table games issue by the end of the current legislative session. The introduction of "live" games will be yet another shot across AyCee's bow in the ongoing battle for the region's gambling bucks.

While inside the facility--a brand new and elegant (for a slot house) building designed to celebrate the complex's industrial past--it was all smiles and good cheer, outside, about a dozen protesters demonstrated against the casino. According to a leader of the protest, The Rev. William J. Kunze of the Bethlehem-based New Bethany Ministries, nothing could be worse for the community than the Sands.

"They could have developed (the steel works) into something else that could have better served the community," said Kunze, who called the Sands a "menace" that will bring gambling addiction and other social ills to the Lehigh Valley. "It seems it's intentionally designed to be the biggest menace it could be."

A colleague of Kunze, W. Sanford Ostman, pastor of Bethlehem's Epworth United Methodist Church, added it was ironic that a casino is being touted as the savior of a town founded 270 years ago by members of the Moravian Church.

"Think about it," said Ostman, "on Christmas Eve this year, while slots are open, we'll be singing 'O Little Town of Bethlehem.' This is so contrary to (why) this town was founded."