On Tuesday, the 14th of June 2016, the historic Riviera Hotel and Casino was demolished after 60 years of its reign on the northern end of the Las Vegas Strip. The building, which was the first high rise to be built on the Strip, in 1955, was famous for its ties with local mobsters and was even used by Hollywood directors to bring to life its mobster past in the 2005 blockbuster hit, Sin City.
The Riviera’s exit from the strip was as dramatic as its life; at 2:38 a.m., on Tuesday, a series of explosions brought the building to go down in a cinematic implosion; the building crumbling from the sides and then into the middle, kicking up a mountain of dust. A fireworks display lit up the sky, moments before the demolition, to say goodbye to the piece of history in style.
Due to its size, the Riviera has been scheduled to be demolished through two separate implosions, with smaller demolition work taking place over the course of the summer months. The owners of the venue, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), have spent USD 42 million to level the 13 building property; with the Monaco Tower now gone, officials have announced that the demolition of the Monte Carlo Tower is next, the implosion for that has been scheduled for later this year, in August.
Riviera Casino and Hotel History
Riviera Casino and Hotel was founded by Miami businessman Samuel Cohen in 1995; however, the gaming licence for the property was first granted to famous mobster William Bischoff, in 1952, but he later withdrew from the project; even Cohen was removed from ownership before the casino’s grand opening on the 20th of April 1955.
“The Riv” as it is colloquially addressed, was the ninth resort but first high rise on the Las Vegas Strip; the architects on the project were also the first to break ground on the building design at the time when all resorts looked like roadside motor courts.
Despite the exciting firsts, the Riviera faced hardship right from the beginning; only three months after its opening, the business went bankrupt; following which, a group of former Flamingo Hotel managers took over operation of the property.
In 1968, the property was purchased by a group, which included notable bankers and the investors associated with the Parvin-Dohrmann Corporation. The investment corporation that owned the Aladdin, Stardust, and Fremont casinos tried to purchase the Riviera in 1969 but was barred from completing the transaction by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
In 1973, the Riviera was purchased by a Boston based travel company, AITS Inc., for USD 60 million.
In 1983, the Riviera was under fire once again; they filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and appointed Jeffrey Silver as the CEO of the venue to turn business around. It was Silver’s idea to shift marketing focus away from high rollers and towards the middle and working class gamblers. This inspired the broader trend of Las Vegas casinos catering to middle class customers.
Between 1988 to 1900, the Riviera underwent a substantial expansion that blew through their budgets causing the company to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection again in 1991.
The business was rescues from bankruptcy by the creditors and the Riviera emerged in 1993 as Riviera Holdings Corp., owned by their previous secured creditors.
The Riviera lost USD 4.5 million in the first quarter of 2010 and the decline in their popularity was widely attributed to the fall in pedestrian traffic in the area. And on the 12th of July 2010, Riviera Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy once again.
In February 2015 the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority acquired the property and associated land for USD 182.5 million and leased it back to the existing operators, Paragon Gaming, who decided to wind down operations and officially close all business proceedings on the 4th of May 2015, to make way for LVCVA’s Las Vegas Global Business District.
The Riviera Casino and Hotel housed over 2,100 guest accommodation rooms, less than half of which were located in the 23 story Monaco Tower
Gaming at the Riviera
The casino at the property also had 110,000 square feet of gaming space, with 1,000 slot machines and 25 table games including craps, blackjack, and roulette, along with mini-baccarat, Let It Ride, and Three Card Poker.
The hotel's convention centre hosted the Billiard Congress of America, American Piilplayers Assiciation, Valley National 8-Ball Association and American Cuesports Alliance pool leagues' annual international championships and several other related events. As of 2010, the Riviera had a near-monopoly on championship-level North American and international amateur pool tournaments that were held in the USA, except the Florida-based U.S. Amateur Championship. However, from 2011, the sports organisations started moving their events to other properties in the area, delivering another blow to the Riviera’s business.
In 2011, the casino reintroduced its bingo room in a bid to attract more customers, at the time they were the only venue on the strip to offer bingo services. Later, in 2012, they also launched a marketing partnership with Buffalo Studios, creators of the Facebook bingo game, titled Bingo Blitz; the game allowed players to play online bingo on a web page that featured an image of the Riviera, as a marketing move to attract customers.
The casino also had a sportsbook operated by the UK based bookmaker, William Hill.
As business started to dwindle, the Riviera poker room was closed, almost two years before the remaining gaming operations, in 2013.
Entertainment at the Riviera
Liberace was invited to cut the ribbon for the casino-resorts grand opening in 1955 and he remained the headline act the Riviera for a long time after. Dean Martin was also hired as a regular act at the casino for three years between 1960 to 1972. Many popular regular acts have graced the stage of the resort over the years, including Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was, the Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra impersonators, Dao – The Asian Celebration, which was an acrobatics, dance and martial arts fusion show, ICE, an ice dancing show and many more.
The resort had one long-running show, Crazy Girls, which was a topless show. The performers of the show have been immortalised with a bronze sculpture of thong-clad buttocks at the front of the casino, which was unveiled in 1997.
The property was also used to shoot many popular Hollywood films such as Ocean's 11 in 1960, Showgirls in 1995, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery in 1997, The Hangover in 2009 and Ghost Adventures in 2012 and 2016 for the sequel.
The “Riv” is the third major structure in Las Vegas to come down with dynamite this year, along with the Clarion and Gramercy Hotels that were torn down earlier this year, in February. The demolitions imply that Las Vegas is reinventing itself again as it recovers from the recession. Many of the new construction projects, like the one the Riviera is making way for, are oriented more toward the younger generation that are looking for more social experience at Vegas and just old school gambling.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority plans on constructing a 500,000 square foot expansion, where the Riviera stood for all these years. The expansion is to include 86,000 square feet of dedicated meeting space, a grand courtyard linking all three halls of the property, an enclosed pedestrian access to the Las Vegas Monorail, on-site police and fire department facilities, all finished off with a signature front Façade.