BETHLEHEM - Las Vegas Sands Corp. chairman and chief executive officer Sheldon Adelson made no secret of what he wants to eventually see inside his company's $743 million casino here: table games alongside the 3,000 slot machines on the massive casino floor.
"I hope the governor will allow us to expand this property," Adelson said, as he sat on a stage with other dignitaries yesterday. "My vision is to make this into a truly integrated resort with retail, a hotel, and convention space, especially if we are able to add table games."
Adelson made the appeal at Sands Casino Resort's official grand opening that came with a lavish display of Vegas show-finery balanced by steelworkers wielding a blow torch to pay homage to the site's former occupant: a steel mill.
The casino has been operating since May 22. Yesterday, Gov. Rendell and company and local luminaries were on hand to dedicate the slots parlor, which had 60,000 visitors in its first three days and saw $18 million in wagering the first day alone.
The Sands already has drawn patrons away from the Mount Airy Resort Casino, which is about 40 miles away. Mount Airy chief executive officer George Toth said the new casino has caused a 10 percent decrease in slots revenue at his property.
"I want to thank them for the confidence they had in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley and having faith in what this area could become," Rendell said of the forces behind the casino, including Adelson.
Rendell, when pressed privately on the possibility of adding table games to Pennsylvania, said with a grin: "Maybe."
His new gambling board chief, Greg Fajt, who was on hand for yesterday's ceremony, said that a "low level discussion of table games was taking place in Harrisburg."
The Bethlehem casino is the first property in Pennsylvania for Las Vegas Sands, which also owns casino resorts in Macau, Singapore, and Las Vegas.
Yesterday's ceremony also featured three former steel plant workers, including 76-year-old Richie Check.
Check had tears streaming down his cheeks when he talked about how the day came when the mill was no longer booming.
"They shut the whole plant down," said Check, who said he was gratified to see the old site being put to use again.
The new casino sits east of 22 original steel-mill structures that made up Bethlehem Steel Corp., which closed its operations here in 1998.
"This is a new beginning for the city of Bethlehem and the residents of the Lehigh Valley," an exuberant Adelson said. "You have our commitment that every step of the way, we will be full community partners."
Nearby Easton resident Doug Ryerson, 43, a local firefighter, said he hoped the casino would live up to that promise.
"We hope it's the opposite of what has happened in Atlantic City," he said. "We're hoping they get it right and take care of the community."
Bethlehem stands to get $8.6 million a year, Northampton County $2.4 million, Allentown $3.2 million, and Lehigh County $822,400 in slots revenue from the state's proceeds for being host communities, according to the state Revenue Department.
For May, Sands Bethlehem increased statewide gross slots revenue by nearly 18 percent - to $178.4 million - compared with May 2008, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. From May 22 to May 31, the casino grossed nearly $10.7 million in slots revenue, of which the state takes 55 percent.