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Bethlehem hopes casino can be a savior

Design of The Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem

TEXT OF STORY

TESS VIGELAND: The steel mills of Bethlehem, Pa., helped build the Golden Gate Bridge and much of the Manhattan skyline. Lately, the city has struggled to replace thousands of factory jobs. But today a new industry opened an employment office in town.

Joel Rose reports from the site of the future Sands Casino Resort.


JOEL ROSE: Drive through Bethlehem and you can't miss the empty foundries and crumbling blast furnaces in the middle of town. Now, part of the former Bethlehem Steel site is opening for business again -- as the Sands Casino Resort. Bethlehem native Bryan Ferenzin says he's glad to see new buildings rising out of the ashes.

BRYAN FERENCIN: My father was in the rolling mills. And my grandfather was a blast-furnace worker. And my great-grandfather was in the machine shop -- built guns for World War II-era battleships. So, lotta history here with my family. And I'm just hoping to get my foot in the door.

It looks like Ferencin will have plenty of competition for a job at the new casino.

Casino employee: Are you here for an interview or to submit an application?

Sands Casino VP Mickey Trageser says more than 5,000 people have already applied for only 1,000 jobs.

Mickey Trageser: That's just after a week of having the jobs out public and available. So, we're really on schedule, I think, for the 10-to-1 ratio we anticipated, and maybe something a little north of that.

Trageser says the casino will be a much-needed spark for the local economy when it opens, hopefully around Memorial Day. But some nearby business owners aren't convinced.

DAN AZAR: It's probably a good thing. Probably help, or it could hurt us. It's 50/50.

Three months ago, Dan Azar opened the Hard Bean coffee shop in a gentrifying neighborhood a few blocks from the casino site. He says it's too soon to tell if the casino will pay off for the rest of the city.

Azar: Depends how people want to spend their money. If they want to gamble it all away, or if they want to come down here and help us, the local businesses, out.

That's a bet many of Azar's neighbors seem willing to take.

In Bethlehem, Pa., I'm Joel Rose for Marketplace.

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Casinos are like sports arenas. Check out how either one is doing in the cities/states that have them, to decide the ability of either boondoogle to work for that microeconomy.

What works, is to invest in the future. Factories building the products of tomorrow, infrastructure that is efficient etc.

The definition of insanity is, to do the same thing, over and over, but expect a different response the next time.

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