The Rio Rumor: True or False?By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming ReportsOctober 11, 2018 at 5:33 pmThere are rumors floating around Las Vegas that the Rio is for sale. One rumor says there are several suitors and the property is already scaling back some operations in preparation for new bosses. Another speculates the property is to be sold and demolished to make room for a major league baseball stadium. Certainly the current owner, Caesars is undergoing some major restructuring in the aftermath of its bankruptcy and might be in the mood to dispose of the property. The Rio is a bit out of the way and does not really fit into the grand Strip plan of the reborn Caesars. Whether anyone is willing to step up and build a baseball stadium before the Raiders have tested the waters is another question entirely. To sell the property to another casino company is one thing, but to tear it down and build a non-gaming facility would be a radical departure for a major Las Vegas casino.Radical departures from the norm were once part of the DNA of the Rio. It opened in 1990 as an all suites hotel, but it was not on the Strip. Granted it is not far from the Strip, but in Vegas you are either on the Strip or you are not. The Rio was designed to play in two markets, the high-rolling tourist market of the Strip and the daily grind market of Las Vegas locals. While not on that great, expensive piece of land, the Rio looked more like those grandiose palaces of pleasure than the Station, Coast and Boyd casinos that catered to the citizens of Las Vegas. The property was designed and built by Marnell Corrao and had a magnificent Brazilian themed interior filled with beautiful, sexy people in eye-popping uniforms and costumes. In the early years, the Rio was the place to stay. For those attending G2E, it was the place to be; the best of vendor parties were held there. The Rio ushered in the era of sophisticated pools and pool social life. It also led the way to an entirely new generation of buffets in Las Vegas. It ended the long lines of food lumped together by food groups. Instead the Rio buffet was arranged in ethnic cuisine groupings that were fresh, exciting and delicious. Every casino operator in the state sent representatives to study and copy it.In 1997, Harrah’s purchased the property for $888 million. Early in the Harrah’s era, I wrote a little piece that I called “Out on a Limb,” in which I speculated that Harrah’s’ would adopt the name and the style to a new series of upscale casinos. In my thinking, Harrah’s would put a Rio in Atlantic City, Louisiana, Mississippi and Illinois and in major metropolitan centers in other jurisdictions as they opened up to gaming. I could not have been more wrong. Instead, Harrah’s started to systematically downgrade the Rio. Harrahizing, it was called; Harrah’s was in the process of reducing its risk and putting more emphasis on slot machines. The company reduced the credit limits for table game players and its use of complimentary services and products to high-rolling table game players. Over time, the Rio lost its edginess and became just another casino. The major attraction has been Penn & Teller, who have been in residence since 2001. Penn & Teller are among the most successful performers in Las Vegas, but by themselves they cannot create the energy that the wild Brazilian music and costumes once gave the property.Remembering the excitement of its early years, I stayed at the Rio one year after it had become fully Harrah’s and had lost its original feel and vibe. It was a dreary experience. The casino floor was beyond ordinary and the buffet was a sad imitation of its former self. In theory it was the same buffet, using the same concepts and design, but it was not the same thing. The food was average at best. By that time the rest of the buffets in town had risen to a new standard, leaving the Rio even farther behind. I haven’t been there in years, so I don’t know what things Caesars, nee Harrah’s, has done to enhance the property. It may be marvelous, but it certainly suffered during the bankruptcy when capital maintenance across the corporation was drastically reduced. The corporation concentrated its efforts on its best performing properties, leaving some of the others to struggle along as best they could.The new, post-bankruptcy Caesars is putting a great deal of money and effort into making its Strip properties competitive in that very competitive environment. There probably isn’t any money or energy to put into an off-Strip property like the Rio. It makes sense to sell it, and maybe it makes sense to demolish the Rio. It has been 28 years since it burst on the scene, bringing with it a freshness that helped boast both the Strip and local markets. It would not be easy to bring it up to the standards of its competitors. Nor would it be easy to find a niche that was not fully filled by another property. Still, it would be a major event to demolish the Rio as the Riviera was destroyed to make way for the Las Vegas Global Business District. The end of the Rio might be a mere rumor. However, rumor or not, Las Vegas is building larger and larger public facilities to increase the city’s attraction to an ever larger audience. To grow past the 41 million annual visitors it now receives, Las Vegas needs more than just another casino. And the Rio could be sacrificed to that end.