Off-Strip Rio Las Vegas ownership receives preliminary suitability finding by regulators

Off-Strip Rio Las Vegas ownership receives preliminary suitability finding by regulators

  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
January 22, 2021 12:13 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports

New York-based Dreamscape Companies originally planned to take two years to consider its options for the off-Strip Rio Las Vegas after it acquired the property from Caesars Entertainment.

That was December 2019. Three months later, “the world collapsed” under the COVID-19 pandemic, Dreamscape principal Eric Birnbaum told the Nevada Commission Thursday.

“If I were sitting here in March or April 2020, I would have had a pessimistic or dour outlook,” Birnbaum said. “But today, we’re revving up the engines a little quicker than we anticipated.”

The Gaming Commission, acting on a recommendation earlier this month from the Gaming Control Board, granted Birnbaum and his partner, Thomas Ellis, a preliminary finding of suitability for the Rio, which is still operated by Caesars under a two-year lease agreement that pays Dreamscape $45 million a year.

Dreamscape acquired the Rio for $516.3 million and the leaseback gave Dreamscape time to develop plans for the 2,522-room property that sits on 89 acres along Flamingo Road, just west of Interstate 15 and 1.1 miles from the intersection of the Strip and Flamingo.

To give Dreamscape additional time, another year was added to the renewal option in which Dreamscape would pay Caesars $7 million to continue operating the property until Dec. 15, 2023.

Birnbaum said the company will be seeking financing to remodel the resort.

Dreamscape plans to operate the casino and have Texas-based Aimbridge Hospitality operate the hotel. He and Ellis will eventually seek a gaming license for the resort. They told the commission Hyatt Hotels would also be involved in the property.

Dreamscape acquires, repositions, and/or develops hospitality, residential, retail, gaming, and entertainment assets. Birnbaum and Ellis first met when they worked at Vornado Realty Trust, a real estate investment trust based in New York.

Birnbaum is behind The Pod Hotel, the 700-room mixed-use ground-up development in New York’s Times Square, and is developing a hotel in South Beach, Miami. He also owns the Westin Las Vegas on West Flamingo across from Bally’s Las Vegas.

“We’re not a volume shop, a hedge fund, or private equity,” Birnbaum told the Gaming Commission. “We don’t intend to own the property for two years and then sell it. We’re committed and passionate and we want to learn from best and do right by the city and everybody involved.”

Birnbaum said he has been working with Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas CEO Bill McBeath as a consultant, who has more than 25 years’ experience in the casino industry.

Gaming Commission member Deborah Fuetsch told Birnbaum it was good the company was taking time to consider in plans for the property.

The Rio, which was originally developed by Las Vegas builder Tony Marnell, reopened in December after being closed starting at the end of March due to the pandemic. It was the last property amongst Caesars’ nine casino portfolio in Las Vegas to reopen once the state allowed gaming to resume on June 4 under health, safety, and cleaning protocols, and reduced capacity restrictions.

Birnbaum told the commission he could only provide “anecdotal information” on the Rio’s current operations since Caesars is a public company and they don’t break out individual property results.

The Rio is currently only open Thursdays through Sundays. He said the casino is doing a “fairly robust business” during those days, and hotel room rates are lower than normal.

“They are sacrificing rates for occupancy,” Birnbaum said.

He said he views the Rio as a property operating as more or of a middle-market asset in Las Vegas, using the term, “approachable luxury.” The property’s customers, he said, would “ultimately feel like they got a good value” for their stay.

Ellis told commissioners that once Dreamscape takes control of the operations from Caesars, the company would have access to player loyalty customer information for the Rio.

“We will have the historical data for the past three years. That data we will have is part of the purchase,” Ellis said. “We won’t have to build data and start from scratch.”

He had Hyatt will be coming in with a “fairly robust database as well.”

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.