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Riviera bringing bingo back to the Strip

As it tries to show renewed life after a bout with bankruptcy, the Riviera will turn to an attraction that the Strip has given up for dead: bingo.

Although widely spread among locals properties, bingo posted its last number in the heart of Las Vegas’ tourist zone when the New Frontier closed four years ago. Since then, no one has stepped in to fill the vacuum.

The new ownership and management at the Riviera have launched several projects in its public areas since exiting Chapter 11 on April 1. But most are standard fare for refreshing a resort, such as revamping the food outlets, updating the sports book and adding slot machines.

Constructing a bingo room, however, will set the Riviera apart when it opens Aug. 12.

“Bingo has changed over the years,” said bingo room manager Bobby Taylor, who came to the Riviera four months ago after at decade at the Plaza. “It is no longer just a loss leader.”

A major change has come in the form of quarterly jackpot sessions, with a promised payout of $200,000 over two days.

“The demographic has gotten younger with the big games,” he said, with the average age down to 45-55 from the ’60s.

Perhaps as important, big-game profits cover losses in slower times so that the room is projected to break even overall, according to Taylor.

The Strip turned its back on bingo years ago, said Freddie Maatouk, vice president of gaming operations at PlayLV Gaming Operations, because resort owners considered bingo a revenue laggard, particular as electronic games proliferated. Compounding that, bingo rooms take up hundreds or thousands of square feet.

The Riviera’s room will cover 6,000 square feet in what was a rarely used meeting room. The big games will move to a ballroom that can seat 1,800.

Further, the stereotypical demographic did not excite the marketing departments.

“The image of a bingo player is a woman 55 or older, with her hair in curlers, smoking and drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup,” said Lou Hilford, a principal in Loudon Consultants in Vancouver, B.C.

But adding electronics to bingo instead of just daubing a card has brought in men in their 20s through 40s, said Hilford, literally changing the makeup of the players. The Riviera’s room will give players a choice of fixed monitors or hand-held devices .

“We see a wide range of people in our bingo, not just gray-haired ladies,” Maatouk said.

PlayLV has the only bingo downtown, currently in a temporary room at Las Vegas Club but it will soon move to the renovated Plaza.

In fact, he said, the Plaza will reopen its casino on Aug. 24 with a $150,000 bingo tournament, with all 1,000 spots already spoken for and a waiting list that has grown to 160, he said.

“For us, bingo players have the perfect profile,” he said, because they will often play slots as well.

Still, the changing appeal of the game has not made it foolproof. Nearby Binion’s opened a bingo area in February, only to shut it down about four months later.

Binion’s management could not be reached for comment. Although Taylor believes their room at 125 seats, was too small.

The Riviera “also might be trying to reach locals,” said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The hotel projects that about one-fourth of its players will be residents with the rest tourists.

In documents filed in the bankruptcy case, Riviera management noted that the depressed state of the north Strip area that surrounds it has deterred pedestrian traffic and made it difficult to boost revenues through methods such as higher room rates.

During the first quarter, when it was still in Chapter 11, the Riviera posted a 1 percent gain in revenues to $20.7 million, but operating income fell by nearly half to $779,000. By contrast, the Riviera Black Hawk in Colorado, the other property owned by Riviera Holdings, posted operating income of $2.6 million on just $10 million in revenues.

The bingo room is perhaps the most visible piece yet of the strategy to turn around the Riviera, which opened in 1955 as the Strip’s first high-rise.

“We are reconnecting with the public as a fun place to go,” said Noah Acres, senior vice president of product development. “We want people to know, the Riviera is back.”

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@review
journal.com or 702-387-5290.

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