Sands Online Casino Preview

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Built on the former site of the iconic Bethlehem Steel Works plant in the Lehigh Valley region, Sands Bethlehem opened its doors in 2009 and now attracts over 9 million visitors per year.

The venue boasts more than 3,000 slot machines and 200 table games, and features one of the biggest poker rooms in the state.

The property was originally owned by Las Vegas Sands (LVS), but will soon be sold to Wind Creek Hospitality, a subsidiary of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, for $1.3 billion.

Sands is headed by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a staunch opponent of online gambling who has put considerable effort into shutting down the industry in the US entirely. With Adelson at the helm, it was always unlikely that the casino would pursue its own online gambling site.

But with the sale to Wind Creek, the game has changed completely. The new owners are now seeking to open their own iGaming site, leveraging the statewide popularity of their newly purchased casino. Despite the previous opposition Sands was obligated as part of the sale to apply for a full gaming license from the state.

If they had waited until the property was fully turned over to Wind Creek they would have missed the initial application window and would have had to apply separately for licenses for online poker, table games, and slot machines, at a higher total cost. This way Sands will be able to offer all three if the current application is approved.

Wind Creek has taken on a huge project with the purchase of Sands, a venue nearly double the size of its current biggest property. The company operates three casinos in Alabama, none of which offer online slots or table games. It also recently purchased two casinos in the Caribbean.

Whether this aggressive expansion will have any effect on the quality of its online casino offering is yet to be seen.

What kind of bonuses will Sands Online Casino offer?

Sands was never afraid to make big bets on its properties, and its new owner, Wind Creek, seems fully capable of handling a substantial amount of risk itself. That said, we expect Sands’ new owners to fully embrace bonus incentives, even though the crippling 54% tax rate levied on online slots might compel smaller casinos to give away smaller amounts.

Bonus offers are one of the most effective ways for online casinos to attract new customers, and usually come in two forms — free money sign up offers and first time deposit bonuses.

Free money sign up offers require no deposit, and award players a small amount of cash (usually in the $10-$30 range) simply for creating an account with the online casino. These bonuses allow players to take a real-money test drive of the site without having to risk their own.

If they like what they see, players then have the option to receive yet another incentive in the form of a deposit match bonus. Here, casinos match a percentage of a player’s deposit up to a specified amount.

For example, if Sands were to offer a 100% bonus up to $1,000, a player depositing $600 would see the original $600 in his account plus an additional $600 in bonus money.

Bonus funds cannot be cashed out immediately, however, as they are subject to a wager requirement. In our example, if the wager requirement was set at 20X, our player would need to wager a total of $12,000 before the bonus was fully released to the account.

As such a major player in the market, we believe Sands would be aggressive with its bonus offer, and set a reasonable play through multiple.

What advantages would a Sands-branded online casino have?

  • Casino/hotel promotional tie-ins: Sands executives have often made the argument that online casinos would cannibalize brick-and-mortar properties, although there is little evidence to support this. Even so, Sands/Wind Creek would likely be eager to assuage its fears by promoting its land-based property is much as possible. Hotel room giveaways offered by Borgata online casino in New Jersey could offer a glimpse into the future of Sands’ iGaming promos.
  • Online poker potential: Sands 30-table poker room is the second highest-earning card room in the state. The casino could leverage that position by partnering with an online poker software provider like GVC, PokerStars or 888 to capitalize on its well-known brand.
  • Table games selection: When it comes to table gaming in Pennsylvania, Sands is king. The land-based casino has more tables and spreads more games than any other in the state. Given this, it’s more than plausible that Sands will go the extra mile in providing players with a stellar table gaming experience, which could very well include Live Dealer games streamed from a studio within the casino.

What software platforms will Sands online casino support?

A successful modern online casino not only needs to account for desktop players, but should provide mobile options as well. So far Sands is one of the only applicants for an online gaming license in the market that has not announced a partnership with a software provider, but negotiations are likely in the works.

In New Jersey, even the smallest online casinos offer both desktop and mobile products, so it’s a near certainty a top-tier casino like Sands would do the same.

Desktop client

While in the past, players were forced to install special software in order to play online casino games, it’s now possible to play directly through a web browser, no download required. In fact, this is now the preferred method at Internet gambling sites worldwide. In New Jersey, only a few Internet casinos even offer the option to download a separate software client.

Sands online players would be able navigate directly to the Sands online casino website through any of the popular web browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari), choose their preferred game, and begin playing right then and there.

Mobile app

One of the joys of gambling online is being able to experience the fun of a casino session without leaving your home. Mobile devices allow us to take that even further by offering the ability to play on-the-go from nearly anywhere.

In NJ, online casinos offer a companion mobile app as standard practice. We expect Sands to create solid mobile apps for both iOS and Android devices, stocked with table games, slots and video poker options. A dedicated section for online poker would also be a possibility, if the company were to jump into that vertical as well.

Game selection at Sands online casino

You can expect to see hundreds of casino games offered at a Sands online casino, encompassing slots, table games, video poker, live dealer and possibly even virtual sports. Game libraries at New Jersey gambling sites started relatively small, but have continued to grow through the years as operators steadily forge partnerships with new developers.

Slots at Sands online

When PA lawmakers legalized iGaming, they potentially shot themselves in the foot by setting a crushing 54% tax rate on online slots revenue. Facing that kind of bite into their profits, operators like Sands are likely to tailor promotions towards table games and seek ways to increase hold on slot machines.

But taxes aside, online slots are the bread-and-butter of any online gambling site and make up a large percentage of a casino’s total game library. In the Garden State, slots libraries are becoming more diverse on a weekly basis, with many sites now offering 400+ titles.

Expect to see a wide array of slots games, from top providers such as NetEnt and IGT, at Sands if the casino goes live with iGaming. Here are a few games you might find there:

  • Balloonies
  • She’s a Rich Girl
  • Triple Diamond
  • Wolf Run
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Blood Suckers
  • Starburst

Blackjack at Sands online casino

While blackjack tables at land-based casinos can fill up easily, making it hard to find a seat, you won’t have the same issue when you play online. Expect to see several blackjack tables available at Sands online, each with slight variations in rules, stakes, number of decks used and number of hands allowed.

It’s plausible Sands will even introduce an exclusive blackjack game or two, much like SugarHouse did in New Jersey. Let’s hope they do, as the land-based Sands has some of the best blackjack rules we’ve ever witnessed, including resplit Aces and surrender.

Sidebet and hybrid games, like Sands’ brick-and-mortar Blazing 7’s and 21+3 Xtreme, could be available as well.

Roulette games featured at Sands

While not as popular as blackjack or slots, roulette will most certainly be offered at Sands online. There are two main variations of the game normally offered at online casinos: European Roulette, which includes one zero slot, and American Roulette, which includes two zero slots.

Other fun takes on the game might be available as well, like Double Bonus Spin Roulette, which adds the chance to make a jackpot-style win on every spin.

Other table games

Many of the other table games that you know and love from Sands would also be found on its online site. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Let it Ride
  • Three Card Poker
  • No Commission Baccarat
  • Craps
  • Pai Gow Poker

Parx Casino online: Video poker

Video poker is an attractive choice for online gamblers as it translates perfectly into the online realm. Video poker lovers would find all their favorite classic titles available at Sands online, including:

  • Bonus Poker
  • Jacks or Better
  • Double Bonus Poker
  • Double Double Bonus Poker
  • Deuces Wild

Our one fear is that the payout tables would downright stink. The tables at Sands b&m casino are less than desirable, and with online sharing the same high tax rate on video poker, it’s likely the operator would opt for tables that returned an average of 97% — still a higher payback than most slots, but a far cry from the 99%+ returns found on NJ sites.

Live dealer games at Sands online in PA

While live dealer games have been around for some time, they were only introduced in the legal US market in 2016, when they launched at Betfair and Golden Nugget Casinos in NJ. If the vertical’s success in the Garden State is any indicator, Pennsylvania operators like Sands will be more than eager to offer them as well.

Live dealer games are similar to the popular Stadium Gaming which Sands already offers its patrons. In the Stadium Gaming pit, players sit at terminals and bet on games being played out by live dealers. The table action is conveniently broadcast onto large screens.

The Live Dealer experience is nearly identical to Stadium Gaming, except that players can gamble from their home computer or through a mobile app. With Sands customers already familiar with the general format, Live Dealer could prove an easy hit for the casino. Look for the following games to be offered:

  • Blackjack
  • Roulette
  • Baccarat
  • Casino Hold‘em
  • The Big Wheel

Will Sands’ PA gambling site have a loyalty program?

Sands currently rewards its frequent land-based casino players through the My Sands loyalty program, which includes perks like:

  • Comp dollars for use in the hotel, restaurants, the event center, clubs, spa and more
  • Free entries for sweepstakes and promotions
  • Free drinks while gaming
  • Exclusive email offers

Preferred-Level players can expect even more:

  • Special top-tier promo offers
  • Preferred shopping discounts at the Sands Bethlehem Outlets
  • Complimentary valet parking
  • Early access to giveaways

We fully expect Sands to offer either a special online rewards program, or fold rewards for Internet players into its current program. The online loyalty program would likely look similar to those already offered in NJ, and could encourage players to visit its brick-and-mortar casino through cross-promotional offers.

The system would probably be comprised of several tiers and use two different types of points. The first points-type would determine your level in the rewards hierarchy, while the other type could be exchanged for things like cash bonuses and hotel stays. The higher your level, the more points you would receive for your play, on average. For example:

  • Bronze level: Players would start here, earning points at the lowest rate for their real money play.
  • Silver level: Once a certain threshold is hit, players would advance to this level, earning points at a faster rate.
  • Gold level: The highest level, players would accrue points at the fastest rate, getting the biggest payback value for their play.

Banking options at Sands gambling sites

Even after online gambling was legalized in New Jersey, some banks were skittish about processing iGaming deposits and withdrawals. This caused problems in the early days of the industry, as many players saw their credit card deposits rejected.

That issue has been now largely been resolved, and we expect the process in PA to go much more smoothly right from the start. Now, even PayPal has jumped into the game, adding a convenient payment option for the millions of Americans who already hold an account there.

Here are some of the deposit options we could expect to see in PA:

  • Instant eCheck (ACH)
  • Online banking transfer
  • PayPal
  • Cashier’s cage at Sands Bethlehem
  • Sands-branded prepaid Discover cards
  • Visa/MasterCard credit or debit cards
  • E-wallets (e.g. Neteller, Skrill)
  • PayNearMe (cash at 7-Eleven)
  • Bank wire transfers
  • Paper checks

VIPs may have access to higher deposit lines, and would receive expedited withdrawals.

Customer service at Sands online

Sands would likely put serious money into any online casino venture, which would mean the creation of a top-notch customer service department. This would include local support staff available for contact through the following methods:

  • Phone
  • Email
  • Live chat

More about Sands Casino

Sands casino sits on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel Corporation plant, which was involved in creating some of the most iconic structures in the US, including the Rockefeller Center and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sands bought the sprawling property in 2007 and spent around $900 million developing it into Sands Bethlehem, making it the most expensive casino in the state. Local officials heralded the construction as a way to revitalize the surrounding Lehigh Valley area.

The casino was designed to reflect the aesthetic of the old steel mill, which can be seen in touches like the exposed beams, piping and brick walls visible on the gaming floor.

The property includes a 300-room hotel, outlet shopping center, concert venue and a variety of nightlife options, like the Vision Bar and the aptly named Molten Lounge.

In terms of revenue, the casino is the second top-performing operator in the state, coming in just behind market leader Parx.

While it was built at a cost of nearly $1 billion, Sands Bethlehem is small potatoes compared with its parent company’s properties in Macau and Singapore.

In March 2018, LVS announced that it would sell its Bethlehem property to Wind Creek Hospitality, the gaming and entertainment arm of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, for a cool $1.3 billion. Wind Creek operates nine gambling properties, including three casinos in Alabama, a greyhound racetrack, and poker rooms in Florida. It has also recently expanded outside of the US with its purchase of two casinos in the Caribbean.

Conclusion

Previously owned by Sheldon Adelson, a fierce opponent of online gambling, we had little hope that Sands would open its own iGaming site. However, with its acquisition by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, it is now official that a Sands/Wind Creek-branded Internet casino is in the works.

Wind Creek is in the midst of an aggressive expansion outside of its base of operations in Alabama. The company has certainly taken on a large amount of risk, and operating an online gambling site will present an entirely new challenge. Has it bitten off more than it can chew?

While it’s unclear whether Wind Creek will have the bandwidth to sustain a successful iGaming site along with its other projects, its purchase of Sands Bethlehem is a very positive indicator for the industry as a whole.

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Bill Grinstead

Bill has over a decade of experience working in diverse aspects of the online gambling space. He is currently focused on legal, US online gaming, which he has reported on since the industry first became regulated in the country.