Betting on Bethlehem explores the social and economic impact of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem on the South Bethlehem community.
Directed by Kari Moffat, Delaney McCaffrey and Caroline Kelliher
During the 20th century, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was a center of industrial production and home to the second largest steel producer in the country: Bethlehem Steel. After the shuttering of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in the late 1990s, the city suffered economic losses and felt the social ramifications of deindustrialization, including increased unemployment, loss of identity, and diminishing social programs.
Following Pennsylvania’s decision to legalize gaming in 2004, Bethlehem, in partnership with Las Vegas Sands Corporation, successfully placed a bid to win one of the nine gaming licenses available in the state. After great debate, the city welcomed the development of Sands Casino on the site of the old steel plant, optimistic for economic revitalization and ancillary development.
A decade after the casino’s opening, student filmmakers Caroline Kelliher, Delaney McCaffrey, and Kari Moffat began to study the impact the development has had on the local, South Side community. They conducted extensive research and talked to gambling experts, local politicians, Sands Casino representatives, Bethlehem residents, and economists. They found a vastly complicated and nuanced story of the casino’s impact on the community. However, despite the beliefs of individuals on gaming, Bethlehem residents remain extremely passionate about their community and have a full stake in its future. The film demonstrates this passion and marries these perspectives by embracing the complexity of the matter and highlighting both the successes and disappointments resulting from the casino’s development.
While the film’s story has a narrow focus on Bethlehem, its implications are broad. Casinos are popping up all over the nation, particularly in post-industrial communities. The events that took place in Bethlehem are reflective of a larger national story regarding the sustainability and longevity of post-industrial development and economic revival.