The Riviera originally opened on April 20, 1955, as the very first high-rise resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Visitors to the opening ceremony likely caught a glimpse of Liberace, the famous American pianist, entertainer and singer, as he cut the ribbon and took his place as the iconic casino’s first resident performer. Before The Riviera, Las Vegas casino resorts bore a striking resemblance to roadside motels and featured modest accommodations and gambling options. After the Riviera opened, however, Sin City took on new life, transforming into the playground of visual stimulation that it has remained to this day.
Despite its historical significance, the Riviera recently closed its doors, finalizing yet another chapter in the long and lustrous history of Las Vegas. In honor of this iconic resort in the desert, it’s time to take a closer look into the rise and fall of one of the world’s most recognizable gambling halls.
Ushering in a new era is never easy, and the early days of the Riviera were no exception. Within a month of its opening, the Riviera was joined by The Dunes and the Royal Nevada casino resorts, creating a boom for Las Vegas that would prove difficult to justify. In 1955, Life Magazine published a story headlined “Las Vegas – Is Boom Overextended?” questioning the strategy of developers who quickly introduced thousands of hotel rooms into an area with limited commercial appeal. Experts debated whether or not Las Vegas has bitten off more than it could chew, constructing too many hotel rooms to remain profitable.
Just three months after its grand opening, the Riviera reaffirmed the concerns of Vegas’s naysayers when it filed for bankruptcy. Shortly after, Gus Greenbaum, a former manager of the Flamingo Hotel, led a group that took over operation of the property after leasing it from the original ownership group. While the Riviera recorded strong results over the next few years, Greenbaum’s drug and gambling addictions led him to embezzle money from the casino (and the mob). In 1958, both Greenbaum and his wife were murdered in their home, allegedly under the orders of gangsters Meyer Lansky and Tony Accardo.
After Greenbaum’s untimely demise, the Riviera went through a period of transition. In 1968, the resort was purchased by a group including bankers E. Parry Thomas and Jerome Mack, as well as investors tied to the Parvin-Dohrmann Corp., which owned the Aladdin, Stardust and Fremont casinos. A year later, a deal was put into place to sell the Riviera to the Parvin-Dohrmann Corp., but it was eventually blocked by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Despite the shift in ownership, the Riviera maintained its position as the crown jewel of the Vegas Strip. In 1969, Dean Martin was hired to perform in the casino’s showroom in exchange for a 10 percent interest in the casino. For the next three years, he performed hundreds of shows in front of excited crowds before leaving in 1972 as a result of a disagreement about scheduling.
In 1973, the Riviera once again changed hands when Boston-based travel company AITS, Inc. purchased the property for $60 million. After a decade of slumping revenues, the Riviera filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1983. Following this bankruptcy, the Riviera initiated another evolution in Las Vegas history when it began shifting marketing focus away from high rollers in favor of middle-class gamblers.
By 1988, the Riviera had regained its mantle as a premier destination in Las Vegas, leading the ownership group to approve an expansion. Unfortunately, the project went significantly over budget, leading to yet another bankruptcy in 1991. Two years later, the business emerged from its latest bankruptcy as Riviera Holdings Corp., which was owned by the previous creditors.
The Beginning of the End
After nearly two decades of efficient operations, Riviera Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July, 12, 2010. Declining pedestrian foot traffic in the vicinity of the resort led to a dramatic decrease in revenue for the historic casino. Casinos such as the Stardust, New Frontier, and Westward Ho, which had previously surrounded the Riviera, had been demolished, leaving the Riviera on an island to which few tourists cared to travel.
In February 2015, the famous resort entered its final chapter when the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority acquired the Riviera and its associated land for just over $182 million. Within three months, the Riviera was closed, and its new owners have already outlined plans to demolish the structure to make way for an expansion of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s new global business district exhibit and meeting center.
The shelf life for casinos on the Las Vegas Strip is generally pretty short, but the Riviera has exceeded expectations by remaining relevant for more than half a century. Featured in a variety of cinematic classics – including Casino, Ocean’s Eleven, Vegas Vacation, 21 and The Hangover – the lasting impact of the Riviera on the evolution of Sin City is unlikely to fade any time soon.
A Vegas Icon
With over 2,100 hotel rooms and 110,000 square feet of gaming space, the Riviera ushered in a new era of gigantic resorts that helped transform Las Vegas from a sleepy desert town into the largest casino destination on the planet. Whether you dropped a few coins in the slot bank, enjoyed a performance of Crazy Girls or observed one of the many championship-level billiards tournaments hosted within its walls, visitors to the Riviera now hold a special piece of Las Vegas history.
Although gambling at the Riviera is no longer an option, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy all of your favorite games. In fact, visiting the casino is now more convenient than ever before, because Silver Oak gives you the opportunity to play all of your favorite casino titles from the comfort of your own home. Practice for free before putting your cash on the line in the ultimate tribute to Las Vegas’s first high-rise resort and casino. With a little luck, the stars will align to help you bring home more than a few awesome wins!