Riviera Neon Sign

Las Vegas Riviera Casino to be Closed, Demolished

Last Friday, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) board of directors voted unanimously to acquire the Riviera Casino and Hotel from the Starwood Capital Group. The deal could amount to as much as $191 million – $182.5 million for the purchase, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and up to $8.5 million to make sure all acquisition costs are paid. Unfortunately for fans of nostalgia, though, the LVCVA has no plans to continue operating the Riviera. It will be closed on May 4th, to be prepared for demolition.

The Riviera is parked in a fairly interesting spot. Situated on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, it is in what has become a fairly dead area. With only the old Circus Circus across the Las Vegas Boulevard, the Riviera is stuck in an older portion of the Strip that has seen foot traffic die with the disappearance of neighboring casinos. The prime action is in the middle and south parts of the Strip, where the towering, opulent casino resorts such as the Bellagio, Wynn, Paris, and MGM Grand reside. Visitors looking for bargains may check out the Riviera, but most tourists are going elsewhere to experience the glitz and glamour of Vegas.

Its location does come with a strategic benefit, though, as it is essentially halfway between famous, old downtown Las Vegas and the fancier south end of the Strip. It is also near the Las Vegas Convention Center. Thus, the plan is to tear down the Riviera and replaced it with about 1.2 million square feet of exhibit and meeting space, when all is said and done.

The Review-Journal reports that Chris Kersting, CEO of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) car show told LVCVA board members that this is a fantastic idea, saying, “For Las Vegas to be No. 1, it has to continue to modernize and expand.”

The LVCVA estimates that the new facility (which will require several years to build) will be able to draw about 25 new shows to the city and that its salespeople have already been on the case, talking to organizations about moving their conventions to Las Vegas.

Image credit: RivieraHotel.com

Image credit: RivieraHotel.com

Though the project is expected to add about 6,000 construction jobs plus another 6,000 permanent jobs, it is not all good news. About 1,000 Riviera employees will soon be out of work. It sounds like Paragon Gaming, the company that manages the property, is going to try to help people get back on their feet, but it also appears that the assistance will be more along the lines of providing them job search resources, rather than actually lining up gaming industry jobs for them.

Current staff also have to get to work on contacting future Riviera guests who have rooms booked after the May 4th closing date. About 150,000 room nights are going to have to be cancelled.

The Riviera’s opening on April 20th, 1955 was a momentous occasion in Las Vegas, as it was the first high-rise hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard , its nine stories towering over the smaller, two-story hotels that were in vogue at the time. It must have been quite the scene that day, as the legendary Liberace was the headliner while actress Joan Crawford was the hostess. The owners – David, Lou, and Meyer Gensburg, RH Bailer, Murray Saul, Jack Goldman, and Gummo and Arthur (son of Groucho) Marx – spared no expense. Crawford was reportedly paid $10,000 for her four day greeting stint – that would equal about $87,000 today. And Liberace, well he was given a “Godfather” offer. He and his brother, George, had been performing at the New Frontier in Las Vegas for $750 per week. George met Jack Goldman on a plane and when Goldman asked if he and his brother would join him at the still-under-construction Riviera, George declined, maintaining their allegiance to the New Frontier. When Goldman offered him $50,000 per week, he and Liberace became the main act in the Clover Room at the Riviera.

Over the years, other premier entertainers took up residence at the Riviera. In the 1960’s, the musical Hello, Dolly! began its run at the casino starring Betty Grable. When Grable eventually moved on, Ginger Rogers took her place. Barbra Steisand made her first Las Vegas performance at the Riviera, opening for Liberace. And in June 1969, Dean Martin opened his popular show at the Riviera after ending his run at the Sands. He also ended up taking a 10 percent ownership stake in the Riviera.

A number of movies have been filmed at the Riviera not just because of its name, but also for its classic, old-school look. Among the more notable movies that have been film at least in part at the casino are the original Ocean’s Eleven starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Angie Dickinson, the modern classic Casino, and Vegas Vacation.


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