The Rio is on the rise

Feb 5, 2002 8:03 AM

Expansion plans are afoot ”” again ”” at the Rio.

According to a proposal to be submitted to the Clark County Planning Commission this week, the Harrah’s property wants to add three, 24-story hotel towers with 1,486 rooms and a 70,000-square-foot casino.

The expansion site, located north of Twain Avenue on both sides of Cinder Lane, will also include showrooms, retail areas, meeting and convention space, spas, arcades and administrative offices. County staffers are recommending approval of the blueprints.

But don’t bet on renting a room anytime soon. “We’re setting the stage for the future, but we have no immediate timetable for building,’’ Harrah’s corporate spokesman Gary Thompson told GamingToday.

Meantime, the Flamingo Road resort has been making a big turnaround. Thanks to marketing and operating improvements ”” and reduced dependence on international table game action ”” the Rio’s cash flow jumped 50 percent in the fourth quarter.

That showing is good news for Harrah’s, which expects to report quarterly earnings of 44-48-cents-per-share. That’s up sharply from the 20-cents-per-share in the fourth quarter of 2000 and it beats the analysts’ consensus estimate of 35 cents.

“The drive-in markets have been doing best for us,’’ Thompson explained, noting Harrah’s diversified stable of casinos in the Midwest and South.

Though the Rio is hardly a drive-in resort, Thompson said the sprawling property has been enjoying 80 percent occupancy on weeknights and “high 90s” on weekends. “We want to build the Rio back up to where it should be,’’ he said.