Group trying to purchase Riv

Jan 17, 2006 3:17 AM

The Riviera has been examined by more prospective buyers than any of those look-e-loos at the Ferrari showroom at Wynn Las Vegas.

But a genuine change of control at the half-century old resort may be close at hand. A group of real estate investors that includes Paul Kanavos, Robert Sillerman and former Starwood Hotels chairman Barry Sternlicht has been seeking a purchase of the 2.1 million Riviera shares owned by Riviera Chairman Bill Westerman.

The purchase of the first chunk of Westerman’s holdings was announced several weeks ago but that initial announcement did not include any indication of how far Kanavos and the others were intending to go.

Now we know. They want it all.

Westerman’s shares amount to about 18 percent of the estimated 12.2 million outstanding shares. Prospective Riviera purchasers have long seen a purchase of Westerman’s shares as a good first step to gaining control of the company.

The group intends to eventually approach the Riviera’s board of directors with an offer for all the other shares, according to a senior gaming industry official who spoke on the condition he not be identified. Spokesmen for the investors and the Riviera were not available for comment.

The Riviera’s 26 acres have been seen as particularly prime, located, as it is, opposite the Las Vegas Convention Center and in close proximity to pending development of all sides.

Trop makeover
could cost $1.5B

Aztar bosses are probably close to choking on some of the numbers Marnell Corrao Construction has reportedly come up with as it explores the redevelopment of the aging Tropicana.

Usually reliable sources outside Aztar suggest Marnell figures a new resort will cost close to $1.5 billion, or roughly twice what Aztar was expecting to spend when its officials first started talking seriously about some kind of extreme make-over a half-dozen years ago.

It’s believed Aztar decision-makers will be reluctant to approve spending more than a billion one or two. One of the options under study by Aztar might involve leasing out many of the non-gaming operations in a new development, something like the route taken by MGM Grand when it built New York-New York and leased out all the restaurants and room service departments.

So Aztar continues edging gingerly toward a redevelopment decision by February or March. There are signs, however, that the planning for a possible shutdown as a prelude to development has gone further than ever before with contingency plans being put together for the disposition of fixtures and equipment throughout the Tropicana.

There’s another option.

The usually reliable sources suggest that the company, which has done all of its big spending in Atlantic City during recent years, may eventually be talked into a joint venture on either one or two of Aztar’s 17-acre sites at the southeast corner of Tropicana and the Strip.

Don’t forget, Tony Marnell has a track record as a builder and developer of casinos. He built and operated the Rio. He even gave some serious thought to a purchase of the Desert Inn after the Rio was sold to Harrah’s. Getting bids is not the same thing as giving the redevelopment a green light, but it is a lot closer to action than the mere repetition of promises to study the matter carefully.

Aztar’s consistent public position for several years has been that it has not decided if there will be a redevelopment of the Las Vegas property.

Marnell has never been reluctant to spend big money on a good idea. He has previously said the last thing Las Vegas needs now is resorts with ordinary casinos and ordinary facilities.

"Las Vegas," he said, "will continue to thrive if its most successful operators deliver first class experiences from the time a guest walks in the front door to when he reaches his room."

Dunes reunion
jogs memories

Las Vegas author Barney Vinson met his wife Debbie during the years when both were employees at the Dunes. They will be among the former Dunes employees getting together for another reunion Wednesday beginning at 6 p.m. at the New York City Bar &Grill on Spring Mountain Road.

Their goal: a chance to discuss life as it once was at this resort where long time workers experienced both the best of times and the worst of times under a colorful mix of owners.

Those owners included the late Major Riddle who enjoyed playing high stakes poker but did not pretend to be the best. After gaming regulators warned him to stop associating with mobster Tony Spilatro, Ridddle told me one day, "I finally found someone I can beat at poker but the Gaming Board won’t let him in the hotel."

Vinson remembers the Dunes as "a haven for junketeers." There was plenty of color and big money in the casino, particularly during the years when the man known as Big Julie Weintraub was bringing in players from the east.

The Dunes was a Caesars Palace wanna-be, but it projected an anything goes personality that was often a reflection of its boisterous old school owners and senior staffers. Dunes restaurants such as the Sultan’s Table attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Bob Hope and Elvis.

Vinson says, "At the Dunes, we had big owners and little owners. Some only had a few percentage points in the joint — they were little owners. When you passed them in the hall, you gave them a nod. Others had more points. They were big owners. When you passed them in the hall, you gave them a smile. Sid Wyman had more percentage points than all the rest of them put together ”¦ When you passed him in the hall you gave him one of your children. He was a great man to work for. He’d walk through the pit saying hello to everyone, even greeting us by name. Of course, we were wearing name tags but it was still a nice gesture. If you were running short he’d advance you a few dollars till payday.

"Anything you wanted," Vinson continued, "just ask him for it and you got it. If you crossed him you were out the door, but that hardly ever happened."