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Rio Las Vegas Destined For Renovation, Not Implosion

James Murphy
by in Gaming Industry on
  • The Rio Las Vegas was the last Caesars Entertainment run property to reopen after the March gaming industry shutdown.
  • There had been speculation that the property would be imploded and the land repurposed.
  • Property owners Dreamscape Companies LLC have plans to upgrade the Rio as soon as feasible despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the unprecedented two months plus closure of Nevada’s gaming industry the future of the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. When the property across I-15 from The Strip at 3700 West Flamingo Road first opened in 1990 it was downright revolutionary on a number of levels. It has remained very popular among tourists and locals for years though it has started to feel dated and is desperately in need of some ‘TLC’.

That’s apparently what is in the cards for The Rio. Property owners Dreamscape Companies LLC executives Eric Birnbaum and Thomas Ellis revealed some of the future plans for the Rio at a suitability hearing in front of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Before we get to that, a bit of explanation about Caesars Entertainment’s role with the property. Caesars sold the Rio in September 2019 to Dreamscape Companies for $516.3 USD. As part of the deal, Caesars would retain management of the property for two years and pay $45 million in rent annually. There’s a one year option that Dreamscape can exercise that would cost them approximately $7 million USD. As part of the deal, Caesars retained the rights to the recently completed World Series of Poker–they’ll presumably move that to another location in the near future and certainly after Dreamscape takes over operation of the Rio at some point in the next two years.

Contrary to rumors that the Rio was destined for implosion and the land reused for other projects–most notably a baseball stadium to lure a MLB team to Southern Nevada–Eric Birnbaum indicated that the property is due for a ‘monster refresh’ along with a revamping of the food/beverage/entertainment mix that will work the best going forward. Birnbaum explicitly denied any suggestion that a baseball stadium is on the drawing boards, ostensibly to land a MLB expansion team or possibly to lure the Oakland A’s to the Vegas Valley:

“It’s amazing the rumors that get thrown out there. I’ve heard everything about how we’re going to tear it down. I’m a big baseball fan so I was excited to hear we were recruiting the Oakland Athletics (to move to Las Vegas), but that was never the case.”

There could be some changes coming on the gaming floor as well. Dreamscape has brought on Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas CEO Bill McBeath to serve as a consultant on gaming which Birnbaum explained:

“We’re real estate guys and I don’t profess to be a gaming connoisseur. We have surrounded ourselves and have learned a lot along the way with what we deem to be some of the best and brightest in the industry. We’re humble and we’re looking forward to creating hopefully a best-in-class team and project.”

There are also plans to outsource the hotel operations–Birnbaum indicated that Texas-based Aimbridge Hospitality will take the lead role in that department. Aimbridge has a portfolio of over 1,400 branded and independent properties all of the US and internationally and is the largest operator of Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt branded hotels in the world.

The strategic plan for The Rio is to create an updated aesthetic and find the right experience–what Birnbaum calls ‘approachable luxury’–to attract the anticipated customer demographic:

“We’re not the Wynn. We’re not Cosmo. We’re not the high end. But we’re not the low end. We equate it to approachable luxury. You get good value for what you’re getting and it’s a good experience at a price point that you don’t feel you’re getting taken advantage of.”

For much of its existence, the Rio checked most of the ‘approachable luxury’ boxes with the all suites concept, quality dining and one of the better buffets in town. The property suffered from some neglect once it became part of the Caesars portfolio and the expectation is that greater attention to detail should benefit it greatly. According to Birnbaum, so too should a more precise focus on a target demographic:

“It’s putting together an aesthetic that is updated and feels relevant and then curating it with experiences, notably relevant food and beverage brands that appeal to who we think our customer is. We know, or at least we think we know, who our customer is and we’re going to create a product targeted to that customer.”

Like many gaming industry observers (myself included), Birnbaum expects to see Las Vegas in general and The Rio in particular experience a strong rebound once the world gets past the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Our view is that there is going to be a vaccine and as a result, there’s going to be a lot of pent-up demand that is forthcoming. Our view — and we could be wrong — is that Vegas is poised to really benefit from that.”

The timeline for Dreamscape taking over operations at The Rio aren’t really clear at this point though it should happen before 2023.

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