Sands Bethlehem Sale Could Shift PA Online Gambling Legalization Opinions In Major Way

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Contents
1 Why the Sands Bethlehem matters for iGaming
2 Sands opposition to online gambling has been unwavering
3 Meanwhile, MGM embraces online gambling
4 Final thoughts on Sands and online gambling Las Vegas Sands reached an agreement to sell the Sands Bethlehem Casino in Pennsylvania to MGM Resorts International. The sale could have wide-ranging implications. The proposed $1.3 billion deal would not only have a major impact on land-based gaming in Pennsylvania. It could also be the final nudge the state needs to pass a bill legalizing PA online casinos. Why the Sands Bethlehem matters for iGaming Las Vegas Sands is adamantly opposed to online gambling. Unsurprisingly, state Sen. Lisa Boscola was one of the most skeptical lawmakers at a recent hearing on online gambling legalization. Her district includes Sands Bethlehem. Of note, the other voice of opposition at the hearing was Sen. Robert Tomlinson, whose district includes Parx Casino. That’s the other Pennsylvania casino operator that opposes online gambling. These lawmakers aren’t necessarily in cahoots with casino operators. But casinos are often the largest employers and economic drivers in the lawmakers’ districts. Therefore, their position on pertinent issues is important. If MGM replaces Sands, the online gambling opinions of Boscola and other lawmakers in the vicinity of Sands Bethlehem are likely to evolve. “It definitely changes the online gaming landscape a bit,” said state Rep. George Dunbar, the vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, in an interview with The Morning Call. “Some members could be swayed by a change, if it happens. Things are going to get interesting.” In the same column, Sen. Pat Browne said, “If I’m going from an operator that thinks iGaming is dangerous to its business model, to one that uses it to build brand, it absolutely changes things.” Sands opposition to online gambling has been unwavering Sands didn’t testify at the hearing. But the casino’s parent company and its chairman, Sheldon Adelson, have made their position perfectly clear. In 2013, Adelson famously told Forbes he would “spend whatever it takes” to stop online gambling in the US. Soon thereafter, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling lobbying group was formed — widely believed to be funded by Adelson — and prohibition bills were introduced in Congress. At a June 2015 hearing in Pennsylvania, Las Vegas Sands Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Community Development Andy Abboud submitted the following testimony: And last year, Sands Bethlehem President Mark Juliano submitted similarly worded testimony: Meanwhile, MGM embraces online gambling On the other hand, MGM sees things differently, viewing online gambling as a driver of growth and reinvestment. MGM already offers online gambling in New Jersey, through Borgata. It plans to launch an MGM-branded online gambling website in the near future. In 2016, MGM praised legislative efforts to bring online poker to New York: Final thoughts on Sands and online gambling The sale of Sands would cause a dynamic change in Pennsylvania’s support and opposition coalitions. Casinos opposing online gambling currently number just two (against 10 in support), but they are the two largest casinos in the state — Parx and Sands. If Sands is sold to MGM, the opposition not only loses half its strength, but it would be transferred to the already significant support coalition. Furthermore Boscola’s skepticism could quickly shift to cheerleading for online gambling if the casino in her district becomes an MGM property. While Sands’ brass has cautioned that too much gambling expansion could lead to less investment in its Bethlehem property, online gambling would ramp up MGM’s willingness to invest.

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