|By Matt Assad, The Morning Call,
Allentown, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 27, 2009--Gamblers wagered nearly $61 million and lost $5.4 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, easily giving the south Bethlehem casino the highest-grossing opening in the state.
On Friday, the Sands casino's opening day, $18.4 million in wagers were placed and $1.6 million was lost -- nearly twice as much as on the first day at any other
casino, including those built outside Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
State and Sands officials said they were happy with last weekend's opening, but cautioned against reading too much into such a short span.
"They're big numbers. I won't argue with that," said Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman Richard McGarvey. "Obviously, they're encouraging, but it's very early. It's going to take a lot more time to get a true picture of how successful that casino is going to be."
Sands' opening weekend started with a mad rush by about 500 people -- including some who showed up more than five hours before the 9 a.m. scheduled opening -- and continued with traffic backups through south Bethlehem, ending with the biggest numbers of any of the eight casinos that opened since Pennsylvania lawmakers approved gaming in 2004.
For example, Sands' Friday gross of $18.4 million far outpaced Harrah's Chester Casino outside Philadelphia, which took in $9.8 million in wagers its first day in January 2007, according to the gaming board. McGarvey noted, however, that while Sands opened on a typically busy Friday, the other casinos all opened Monday through Thursday.
Sands' $60.8 million in total wagers for its first four days is actually higher than the entire first weeks of five of the seven other casinos. It falls just short of the first-week totals of $66 million for Harrah's and $63 million for the Meadows Casino outside Pittsburgh.
State officials are more concerned with the casino's gross terminal revenues -- all the money left in the machines after all winners are paid -- because that's the money the state taxes 55 percent. That means the $5.41 million left in the machines at Sands last weekend will translate into nearly $3 million in tax money to be used for property tax relief.
It also means that the 60,000 people who visited Sands in its first three days -- Sands had not compiled attendance totals for Monday -- lost money at a rate of about $73 per person.
"It's depressing," said Dianne Berlin, coordinator of CasinoFreePa, an organization opposed to casino gambling. "These are people who are livid if their taxes go up $10 a year, but think nothing of flushing their money into a slot machine."
Sands officials would not comment on the numbers, but said they were happy with the performance of the casino and its staff.
"You can prepare all you want," Sands spokesman Ron Reese said. "But until it opens, you never really know what's going to happen. We had a good strong weekend, and based on what we saw, we're making adjustments to make the coming weeks and months even better."
That includes more training for staff who in some cases were overwhelmed by the crowds Friday, changes in traffic patterns to prevent backups on Route 412 and more signs in the 3,400-space parking garage to guide drivers, Reese said.
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