Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Welcome to Vegas Insight, goodbye Riviera

Welcome to my blog, a collection of commentaries and reactions to news and information emanating from one of America's great playgrounds, Las Vegas!

More about me in the days to come. Today I want to jump right into the hot topic in Vegas this week.

For the past few days there has been plenty of discussion about the future of the Riviera. The good folks at Vegas Chatter, my primary source for Vegas news, have posted information three times during the past couple of days about the future of the casino. The latest post is a confirmation that the casino is being sold and demolished as part of a plan to significantly expand the footprint of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The expansion would allow the convention center to attract far more convention business, and have a presence directly on the strip. It sounds like a great opportunity for the folks in the convention business. Chances are it'll be a huge shot in the arm for the north end of the strip, too.

Like most major business transactions, this isn't a done deal, although it's being reported as if it's as good as a done deal. Assuming so, Vegas will lose one of its classic casinos. Unlike the Sahara up the street, which ended its long run a few years ago and was revitalized with a major facelift that has underperformed by most expectations in its infancy, the Riviera will be whitewashed completely from the Vegas landscape. (Given how often I read comments bemoaning the SLS – the new incarnation of the Sahara – perhaps those who long for the Sahara's heyday would prefer if that property had been imploded.)

There's nothing sexy, or glamorous, about being the old, affordable casino property on the strip. There's a market for affordability and clean hotel rooms without bells and whistles, but that doesn't seem to play well on the strip. Old hotels can be overhauled and turned into high-end destinations, but that wouldn't be enough to draw the masses, and whales with deep pockets, to the Riviera. The Riviera has always been the symbolic end of the line when it comes to casino action on the north end. Yes, the former Sahara and the Stratosphere are further north, and not so far that walking to them is out of the question, but they don't have the convenience factor that MGM offers to guests of the Tropicana, and vice versa.

Yes, Circus Circus is across the street from the Riviera. It draws tourists for a variety of reasons. It benefits from being on the strip, of course, but I've never believed its location was crucial to its success. Circus Circus certainly benefits from having a major casino across the street, and vice versa, but these bastions of old school Vegas aren't must-see destinations for many tourists. Circus Circus has its uniqueness and a clientele that nobody else on the strip seems to have. The Riviera, on the other hand, is just a tired, played out casino that doesn't try very hard. It doesn't give the Vegas visitor a lot of incentive to visit the north end of the strip.

In recent years the Riviera lost a lot of its compatriots. The small, unspectacular Westward Ho attracted budget-minded gamblers, albeit not by the millions. Nonetheless the Riviera was the fancy alternative when the Ho crowd needed a change of pace. And if the Ho crowd wasn't in the mood to cross the street, all that crowd needed to do was go next door to the Stardust, a casino property with a similar resume to the Riviera. A major property like Stardust wasn't going to spill over substantially to the Riviera, or draw the masses to the northern end of the strip, but it wasn't going to hurt traffic on the north end. More people inevitably means more business. Unfortunately for the Riviera, those kindred casinos have been gone for several years.

And not too far south of Stardust was the Frontier, another unpretentious old school casino that drew customers similar in ideology to Stardust and the Riviera. It's gone too, and there's no Wynn or Encore that have replaced them. There are fewer reasons to head north of Wynn/Encore than there use to be.

For the past several years the Riviera has increasingly become an island unto itself. With its pending closure, Circus Circus lays claim to the island. And Slots A Fun doesn't count since it's owned by Circus Circus, and everything fun about that little casino has been choked out of it over the past 10 years, unless you came to Vegas to play beer pong in a dingy little game room devoid of atmosphere.

I think Circus Circus will survive on that island if the Riviera does indeed close down. And as much as we hate to see tired old properties die an unspectacular death, in the long run this may be what the north end of the strip needs.

Closing and tearing down the Riviera in and of itself wouldn't do anything for the north end of the strip, but having a major convention center space on the strip at this location will increase demand for lodging nearby. That's good news for Circus Circus, (although not necessarily good for its loyal customers.) And once that new convention center space is operational, developers will be trying to shoehorn anything and everything they can into the north strip area.

Perhaps that won't mean any new casinos, but there's a shell of a casino hotel towering next to the Riviera (Fountainebleau Las Vegas) with nearly 4,000 unfinished rooms. Perhaps we'll finally see that project emerge from bankruptcy. And it's only a matter of time before Resorts World Las Vegas – the newest plan for a casino where the Stardust once stood – finally takes shape. Perhaps news of a new convention center extension will hasten the construction of Resorts World.

Progress never comes fast enough, and saying goodbye to a historic casino in Vegas history is always a sad day. But given the current landscape, selling of the Riviera to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority seems like the best possible outcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment