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Rio’s new owners get preliminary suitability approval

Rio’s relatively new ownership got the green light Thursday to eventually hold a gaming license, setting it up for full oversight of the property in the next couple of years.

The Nevada Gaming Commission approved a preliminary finding of suitability for Dreamscape Companies LLC executives Eric Birnbaum and Thomas Ellis to operate the hotel-casino their company bought for $516.3 million a little more than a year ago.

The pair reaffirmed to commissioners their brand vision for Rio when they eventually take it over in the next two years: “approachable luxury,” a phrase they pitched to the Gaming Control Board this month.

The self-described “real estate guys” haven’t previously operated a gaming property. Birnbaum told regulators Thursday he has enlisted the help of gaming experts including The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ CEO Bill McBeath for consulting purposes.

“I’d be lying if I told you that I am Mr. Gaming, and that I know everything and everything about gaming. I don’t,” Birnbaum said, “but, as a result, I’ve done the best that I can to hopefully surround myself with the best individuals in the business.”

Dreamscape acquired Rio late 2019 in an agreement allowing Caesars Entertainment Inc. to manage the off-Strip property for two years at an annual rent of $45 million and an optional third year at $7 million. Caesars and Dreamscape have since extended the initial lease agreement an extra year because of COVID-19 pandemic complications, potentially pushing back Dreamscape’s takeover as late as Dec. 15, 2023.

Birnbaum told the control board this month that once Dreamscape begins operating the Rio, it will get “a monster refresh” and a re-examining of what food and beverage amenities make the most sense for the 2,500-suite hotel-casino that opened in 1990.

“I’m completely committed, passionate, and want to learn from the best and be a good citizen, and do right by the city and do right by everybody involved,” Birnbaum said Thursday.

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290. Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.

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