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Gaming Guru

Kimberly De La Cruz
 

Riviera ends 60 years on Strip, closes for good

5 May 2015

In a surrealistic, you-don’t-see-that-everyday kind of way, the storied Riviera Hotel and Casino, a fixture on the north end of the Strip for 60 years, closed its doors for good Monday.

Representatives of Paragon Gaming, the company managing the property for its previous owners, Starwood Capital Group, ushered late well-wishers out the door at noon as representatives of the state Gaming Control Board oversaw the closure.

An hour before the 11 a.m. checkout time, men pushed carts of stage lights through the hotel lobby as the final hotel guests stared.

Outside the casino’s Strip-facing doors, only about 10 passers-by stopped to photograph the landmark at 10:30 a.m. Crews working to remove the gold “R” door handles quickly caught the attention of others.

Standing somberly before the casino doors, Larry Edwards bore the casino name across his shirt.

“I walked through this building for 15 years,” he said, clutching old show programs under his arm.

Edwards impersonated Tina Turner at the Riviera in “La Cage” from 1987 until 2005, he said, when he, like much of the Strip, ventured south on Las Vegas Boulevard. After the Stardust was imploded, foot traffic decreased, and it was never the same, he said.

He now performs in Frank Moreno’s “Divas” at The Linq Hotel & Casino but never forgot about his time at the property and remained “amazed by the reaction from Vegas crowds” over his first performance years ago.

For those employed until the last minute, Monday morning was just another day, according to two housekeepers. The parties were over, and there was still work to be done.

THE STATUE IS REMOVED

Six employees were tasked with removing the classic “Crazy Girls” statue from the front of the building.

Just before 11 a.m., the men removed the “No Ifs, Ands Or …” statue from the casino front and loaded it onto a pickup.

“We’re going to go up and down the Strip with it,” exclaimed the show’s technical director, Nevada Nichols. “Then, it’s going on tour to Red Rock, Lake Mead and the Welcome (to Fabulous Las Vegas) sign,” he said.

About a hundred people stood in awe when the process began, and by the time the statue was being loaded, the crowd size had tripled.

“It’s so hard to say goodbye,” the onlookers sang.

One woman cried out, “No, Las Vegas! No!”

Inside, unaware of the commotion that ensued on the other side of the doors, Faith Klimczak of Greenville, S.C., laughed, photographing her boyfriend, Jeff Batten, lying on a craps table.

“We drove all night to say goodbye,” said Klimczak, who has cashed in poker tournaments according to the TheHendonMob website. “We’ve never had a bad time at the Riv.”

Batten climbed off the table and said, “I came to take ’em for what was left!”

What was left? Just about everything.

It wasn’t until 10 minutes before the casino closing that security began turning off slot machines and bartenders hollered, “Last call for alcohol.”

Jenny and Paul Sidell sat gambling when the machines next to them were shut down.

“I guess we’re done,” Paul Sidell said, cashing out.

The couple from Minneapolis saw the historical closing on the news and left their room at the Wynn Las Vegas to get in on the action.

A TIME TO TELL STORIES

Everyone else, it seemed, played a part in the casino’s history.

A group of employees and former employees huddled around a table swapping stories.

“I worked here! I worked here for 41 years!” Lucy Kutcher proclaimed.

She started as a keno pit clerk in 1959 and worked until being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

“This has always been a second home,” she said.

Recalling her favorite memory of the Riviera, she described the elaborate details, including gaming tables “all lined up with crystal chandeliers over them.”

Her friend, Paul Kiros, stopped to remember his first decade working at the casino from 1986 to 1996.

“I like the old days,” he said. Kiros worked for 29 years as a Riviera shift boss “until yesterday,” he said, laughing.

He said the closing was “kind of like going to a funeral. That’s why I’m all dressed in black.”

Just a few minutes later, the call came over the loudspeaker — the Riviera was closed.

Hesitantly, patrons started to file out.

“To the Riviera,” customers toasted in the bar.

David McLane of Henderson held up his Pabst Blue Ribbon — the final pour in the casino.

“Sad, terribly sad,” he described the closing.

SECURITY STEPS IN

Security enforced the closure at about 12:30 p.m. and showed remaining guests to the exits.

One officer said to the crowd, “There’s another casino right across the street. They’re open.”

The 23-story hotel, the first high-rise resort on the Strip, was purchased in February by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for $182.5 million. The property will become the front door to a revamped convention center complex, the $2.3 billion Las Vegas Global Business District.

A fence soon will be erected around the shuttered property.

A $3 million liquidation sale of furnishings is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. May 14. The sale will take place from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday until everything is gone.

Flat-screen televisions of all sizes, king and full-size Serta Perfect Sleeper pillow-top beds, Kimball granite-top chests and desks, nightstands, writing desks, game tables, pictures, mirrors, lamps, chairs, sofas, love seats, end tables, coffee tables, sofa tables, dining tables and chairs, chandeliers and sconces, wet bars, bar stools, bathroom fixtures from the property’s 2,075 rooms will be sold.

The Convention and Visitors Authority is expected to take possession of the building by June 8. A spokesman for the authority said no timetable has been established for the demolition of the property. Initially, officials speculated that could occur in August or September, but the authority now says it could be the end of the year or early next year before the Riviera comes down.

How the building is demolished hasn’t been determined. The authority is considering an implosion or a more conventional demolition.

Monday’s closure was overseen by the state Gaming Control Board staff. Personnel on the scene were from the board’s audit and enforcement staffs.

Shirley Springer, chief of the control board’s audit division, said five or six auditors will devote an estimated 1,500 hours to the Riviera closure.

Springer’s staff will audit casino activity from the date of the Rivera’s last audit about two years ago to the closing date with auditors reviewing records of table game and slot machine play.

Springer said the Riviera was required to file a closure plan with the state that included details on how Riviera chips would be redeemed and excess chips destroyed.

Paragon and Starwood officials contracted with Gaming Partners International to dispose of casino chips. Mobile industrial equipment will shred lead-free casino chips later this week.

For casino patrons owning chips, a redemption center has been set up at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino just east of the Riviera. Patrons will have 120 days, or until Sept. 1, to redeem their chips.