U.S. casino honors steel past, boosts economic hopes

Wed May 27, 2009 2:19am EDT
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By Jon Hurdle

BETHLEHEM, Penn. (Reuters Life!) - Where blast furnaces once forged steel beams to build American skyscrapers, thousands of blinking slot machines with names like "Stinking Rich" now lure gamblers to eastern Pennsylvania.

The site of Bethlehem Steel, a defunct industrial giant that made raw material for New York's Chrysler Building and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, is now home to the Sands Casino Resort, which boasts 3,000 gaming machines.

"They've got it all here," said Susan Davis, 57, a hospital housekeeper from Bethlehem who took a day off work to check out the recently opened casino, owned by Las Vegas Sands. "It's beautiful."

Once one of the top U.S. steelmakers, Bethlehem Steel filed for bankruptcy in 2001 amid sluggish demand in a weak economy, depressed prices and a glut of supply that American producers blamed on foreign companies dumping steel on the U.S. market.

Now tax revenues from the casino standing in its place -- the eighth to open of 14 authorized by Pennsylvania in 2004 in a bid to stop gamblers going to surrounding states -- will help provide property tax relief amid a deep U.S. recession.

Since the first of the planned new casinos opened in November 2006, Pennsylvania has taken $1.86 billion in gaming revenues, said Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the state's Gaming Control Board. A ninth casino is due to open in August in Pittsburgh, the former headquarters of U.S. steelmaking.

The Sands Casino Resort is integrated into an industrial landscape of rusting blast-furnace chimneys and crumbling foundries on the south bank of the Lehigh River in Bethlehem, an eastern Pennsylvanian city of some 70,000 people.

Its name is mounted in huge red letters on an arched "ore bridge" where cranes once seized iron ore from freight trains and loaded it on to conveyor belts to begin its transformation into steel.   Continued...