Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pa., opened its 300-room hotel over Memorial Day weekend to strong demand, achieving more than 80 percent occupancy.

The hotel is the first to be added at a Pennsylvania casino. Mount Airy Resort Casino in the Poconos opened with a hotel in November 2007.

Gaming analysts say hotels represent the morphing of Pennsylvania gaming venues into sites that resemble Atlantic City's, and will further steal market share from the struggling Shore resort. Until now, Atlantic City has boasted that it was the region's only overnight gambling destination.

The Sands Hotel is scheduled for a grand opening June 9. Its strong "soft" opening over Memorial Day weekend bodes well, said casino president Robert DeSalvio.

"The volume of guests we saw this weekend is a great indication of future success . . . and we are extremely excited for what's to come," DeSalvio said in a statement Monday. "This is the beginning of a new phase at the Sands Bethlehem, which will soon include retail space and an events center."

Earlier this year, the casino announced it was moving forward on plans for a 35-store retail mall, as casino revenues have improved dramatically after the addition of table games last July, according to DeSalvio.

He also said the demand for table games spurred the need to build a hotel to accommodate players who tend to gamble long hours, and to go after midweek convention and meeting business. The Sands Hotel is now the largest full-service hotel in the Lehigh Valley and includes 5,000 square feet of meeting space and 3,000 square feet of prefunction and exhibit space.

The $743 million Sands Bethlehem Casino debuted in May 2009 on the former site of the historic Bethlehem Steel plant.

Last month, the casino ranked fourth in the state among 10 casinos in gross slots revenue, generating $23.7 million, up 9.8 percent from $21.6 million a year ago.

With table games, Sands Bethlehem - which has 100 tables - ranked third, just behind Parx in Bensalem with 162 tables, and Harrah's Chester Casino and Racetrack in Delaware County with 121 tables. Sands generated $7.8 million from craps, roulette, blackjack, and other games last month.