|By Matt Assad, The Morning Call,
Allentown, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 17, 2008 - After more than three years of state hearings and heated local debate about where to allow gambling, and how it should be done in Bethlehem, the city's casino finally has a name.
Drum roll, please: Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.
OK, that may not shock anyone, and it may not sound especially creative, but Mayor John Callahan rather likes the way it rolls off his tongue. Because now, when Las Vegas Sands' worldwide customers go to the casino giant's Web site or Google the company, up will pop the city's name.
Sands didn't pick the name to make Callahan happy. That decision came after six months of research that included meeting with 18 focus groups in the Lehigh Valley, New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia areas, and getting thousands of responses from people who took an online survey, said Robert DeSalvio, the Sands Bethlehem casino president. The logo includes not only the Las Vegas Sands brand, but an I-beam leading into the city name.
Putting Bethlehem in the name is a departure for Sands. Its Las Vegas flagship is called the Venetian, the Palazzo is on the next lot, and its casino in Singapore is called the Marina Bay Sands. Even its Sands Macao casino refers to a special administrative region in China, not a city.
"All in one, we get a wonderful city, a great brand and a good locational identifier," DeSalvio said Friday while unveiling the name.
Incorporating Lehigh Valley, rather than Bethlehem, was rejected because although both names were viewed positively by the focus groups, the city name was better at directing people to the specific site. And the name BethWorks, a shortened version of the name the former Bethlehem Steel picked for its vision of the site, was rejected because only focus groups in the Valley knew what it meant.
The Bethlehem casino will be the first Las Vegas Sands Corp. casino in this country that uses Sands in the name. Sands, DeSalvio said, evokes nostalgia for the days gambling was legalized in the 1950s, and stars such as Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. frequented the original Sands after it was built in 1950 to turn Las Vegas into a desert oasis.
Lehigh Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau President Michael Stershic is more interested on the impact the name will have on the present. For Stershic, what's in this name is a ton of free marketing.
"They are going to be pouring millions and millions of dollars into making Bethlehem a destination," Stershic said, noting the casino's marketing budget will dwarf the $1.1 million the bureau spends each year to promote the entire Valley. "We love the name. They're doing our job for us."
Of course, one man's treasure is another's trash, and gambling opponents are worried the city's quaint, historic name will now be junked up by its association with neon lights and spinning slots.
Google the city name now, and the massive list of links generally starts with city links to festivals and events, guides to its historic downtown and references to Bethlehem Steel. Even the city's lengthy Wikipedia pages have just one line mentioning the coming casino.
Not for long, fears Esther Lee, a member of Citizens for a Better Bethlehem, the community group that attempted to block the casino from coming to Bethlehem.
Lee noted the war was lost in December 2006, when the gaming board awarded the license to Sands. The new name is just another log on the fire.
"We used to be known as the Christmas City. I don't like the sound of this at all," Lee said. "This will transform how we are viewed, and ultimately who we are."
The $800 million casino complex has been under construction since last year and is scheduled to open in June 2009. The complex is to include a casino with 3,000 slot machines, a 300-room hotel, an upscale shopping mall with more than two dozen shops and restaurants and an events center capable of seating up to 3,500 people for conferences, expositions and concerts.
It's projected to attract 5 million people a year, none of whom should be confused by the name.
"We absolutely love it," Callahan said. "It calls out Bethlehem as a destination. From our standpoint, that's exciting."
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