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BETHLEHEM, PA-A $743-million casino opens for business here today, with a grand opening scheduled for June 9. Having halted work on the remainder of the resort last fall amid the recession, Las Vegas Sands Corp. plowed ahead with the profit center, which launches with four restaurants, two lounges and 139,000-square-foot gaming floor with 3,000 slot machines.

Before the end of the year the casino will add 2,000 more slot machines, making it not only the largest slot parlor in the state but also larger than any slot parlor in Atlantic City, which is already losing slot business to the Philadelphia suburbs. The largest casino in Atlantic City, at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, has 4,100 slot machines and a 161,000-square-foot gaming floor.

Eventually, the development is slated to be a true resort with 300 hotel rooms, nine restaurants and 200,000 square feet of outlet retail. The site will also include a National Museum of Industrial History, an arts and culture center and the broadcast home of local PBS affiliate WLVT.

The development site used to be home to Bethlehem Steel, which operated here for nearly 100 years and for a time was the second-largest steel producer in the US behind Pittsburgh. The company shuttered its operations here in 1995; the city is still on the mend.

In November, Las Vegas Sands revealed that it was in danger of defaulting on $5.2 billion in credit facilities secured by its US operations, halted construction at its active development sites worldwide and then completed an emergency $2.1-billion capital raise, thereby removing “substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” Further addressing those concerns in its first quarter report, company chairman/CEO Sheldon Adelson said the company remains focused on reducing its leverage.

“The complete implementation of our $470 million cost savings program, together with the future addition of operating cash flows from the openings of our properties currently under development in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Singapore, will significantly enhance our financial position,” he said. “We believe we have opportunities to generate additional liquidity, should we choose to do so, through the monetization of non-core assets or the sale of minority interests in certain of our operating assets or subsidiaries in Macao.”

Last year, a report from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board predicted that gross terminal revenues from licensed casinos are expected to reach an annualized level of $2.28 billion by July 2009, after four new facilities come on line. Kevin Hayes, the board’s director of operations, said that the slots casino projects could add $650 million per year in revenues and create 3,750 permanent jobs on the heels of 4,700 construction-related jobs.

The four new casinos include two stand-alone facilities, Sands Bethworks in Bethlehem and Majestic Star Casino in Pittsburgh. The two others are upgrades from temporary to permanent facilities at two racetracks, the Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington, and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. In total, the 11 licensed casinos slated to be open as of July are scheduled to have a combined 24,123 slot machines. Commonwealth law allows the operation of up to 62,000 slot machines in Pennsylvania.

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