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Inside Gaming: Sands Bethlehem Sold to Alabama Tribe, Not MGM

Sands Bethlehem
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  • After potential deal with MGM falls through, Sands Bethlehem purchased by Alabama-based tribe.

  • Club Casino Loutraki closed amid tax dispute; SLS Las Vegas buyer Meruelo gets Nevada license.

This week's installment of Inside Gaming begins with the announced sale of a Pennsylvania casino to a Native American group based in the southeastern U.S., shares news of a casino in Greece being forced to close amid a tax dispute with regulators, and notes how the purchaser of the SLS Las Vegas has been approved for a gaming license by regulators.

Las Vegas Sands Agrees to Sell Sands Bethlehem

We've been reporting here over the last year about efforts to sell the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in Pennsylvannia.

Last March came reports that MGM Resorts International was showing interest in purchasing the property from Las Vegas Sands, with "an agreement in principle" apparently having been reached between the industry giants.

Two months later Sands Bethlehem announced that ongoing expansion plans had been halted while the sale was being finalized, further suggesting a sale was imminent.

Ultimately, however, that deal fell through, but this week came more substantial confirmation that Las Vegas Sands had found a different buyer. As Bloomberg reports, Sands Bethlehem has been sold to Wind Creek Hospitality who operate properties for the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians tribe. The purchase price of $1.3 billion matches the one earlier reported for the failed MGM deal.

"We are pleased to have built a strong foundation that can be the basis for the property's future success," said Sands CEO and Chairman Sheldon Adelson of the property that first opened in 2009.

MGM ultimately "dropped its bid to acquire the casino after performing due diligence on the property," reports Bloomberg. Pennsylvania's exploration of expanding gambling in the state, including online, also played a role in MGM backing out. Late last year the state did sign into law a gambling expansion bill.

Wind Creek Hospitality currently operates six properties in the Alabama and Florida for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The transaction must still be reviewed by regulators before being finalized.

Greek Casino Closed Following Tax Payment Dispute

On Monday Club Casino Loutraki in Corinthia, Greece was forced to close by the Hellenic Gaming Commission after the regulators ruled the casino had failed to pay €250,000 in taxes to the government. However the casino's owners believe the government owes them for having previously overpaid taxes.

G3 Newswire reports that in February the Tripoli Administrative Court of Appeal did order the government "to repay €44 million to the casino following a tax increase between 2008 and 2011." However the parties still await a verdict regarding what Club Casino Loutraki views as their having paid too much in taxes from 2012 to 2015.

In the meantime, Greek law stipulates a casino that has not paid its gaming tax must suspend operations. "Greek casinos have to pay 35 percent tax on each day's gaming revenue," explains G3 Newswire, "but no payments have been made [by Club Casino Loutraki] since the start of March."

"The suspension of operation happens automatically if they don't pay," said Evangelos Karagrigoriou, Chairman of the HGC. "It is not for the Gaming Commission to acknowledge the stand-off by the casino. Moreover, court decisions on refunds are not enforceable until the two-month period in which the State can appeal them."

The casino was ordered to close once before in November 2015 over a €2M tax bill, opening only after having paid.

The casino has been up for sale in recent years by its owners, the Israel-based Queenco Leisure International Ltd and Club Hotel Investments, with multiple potential buyers having approached the group. Just after the U.S. presidential election late 2016, Tornos News reported Trump Entertainment had been among those showing interest.

Club Casino Loutraki hosted a single European Poker Tour series in 2011, and was also the site of the Greek Poker Cup from 2011 to 2013.

Nevada Regulators Approve License to SLS Las Vegas Purchaser Meruelo

Finally, some Las Vegas-based casino news. Last May we told how the California-based Meruelo Group management company had agreed to purchase the struggling SLS Las Vegas from the Stockbridge Real Estate Group.

On Wednesday the Nevada Gaming Control Board agreed to approve the transfer of a gaming license to new owner Alex Meruelo, reports casino.org.

The site has a storied history, opening as Club Bingo in 1947, one of the first resorts in Las Vegas. In 1952 the Sahara casino-hotel was constructed on the site, and later the original Ocean's 11 (1960) was filmed there.

Following the purchase of the property by Sam Nazarian and the Stockbridge Real Estate Group in 2007, the Saraha closed in 2011. After renovations the hotel reopened as the SLS Las Vegas in 2014, then Nazarian sold his interest to the Stockbridge Real Estate Group the following year.

The property has endured hard times since, including teetering on the verge of bankruptcy according to a late 2017 lawsuit filed by creditors.

Meruelo is renegotiating those loans while speaking optimistically about plans to market the casino in Southern California where he owns multiple radio and TV stations. Additionally, Meruelo "told the Board he has access to millions of dollars and credit through the 30 companies he owns."

Meruelo aims to replicate his success following his company's 2011 purchase of the Grand Sierra Resort Hotel & Casino in Reno, a history Meruelo called upon when appearing before the NGCB.

"I was told there was no way in hell that I would be able to turn the Grand Sierra around," said Meruelo. "If I can turn around the Grand Sierra Resort, I [can] do that at SLS."

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