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Company reviving the Riviera in Vegas wins Control Board OK

11 September 2014

LAS VEGAS -- The Nevada State Gaming Control Board has approved an application by the owners of Paragon Gaming to receive a percentage of gaming revenue generated at the Riviera Hotel and Casino, where the company took over operations last year.

Paragon Gaming, headed by Dianna Bennett — daughter of the late Las Vegas gaming pioneer William Bennett — began managing the Riviera in June 2013, following a major shake-up that included the firing of CEO Andy Choy.

The application new goes to the Gaming Commission for final approval.

Asked about the history of Paragon Gaming’s involvement with the Riviera, Vice President George Scott Menke revealed that the company was recruited to assess the Strip property and recommend ways to revitalize it.

The Paragon team noted that the carpeting behind the hotel’s front desk hadn’t been cleaned since the property opened more than a half-century ago. The outside of the building was grimy. Casino floor workers were unenthusiastic.

After the assessment, something became quite clear, Menke said: “We could do some good and turn the property around.”

Pulling from a $6 million capital improvement fund provided by Starwood Capital, Paragon has replaced carpeting, power-washed the building and remodeled its showroom. Menke said contractors recently worked through 200 code notices issued by Clark County regarding bad wiring and mechanical problems throughout the property.

Over the next three months, the company plans to focus on updating the property’s technology and continuing renovations. Paragon’s contract is slated to last two years, expiring in June 2015.

Paragon’s involvement comes at one of the most difficult times in the resort’s history.

The Riviera, which opened on April 20, 1955, filed for bankruptcy three times over 50 years.

The hotel-casino filed in 1985 and 1991, when Meshulam Riklis lost the property to Riviera Holdings.

The most recent bottoming came in July 2010, when the Riviera Holdings Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, an action supported by more than 75 percent of debt holders. Four months later, the company emerged from bankruptcy, falling into the portfolio of Greenwich, Conn.-based Starwood Capital Group, which holds 41 percent of Riviera Holdings.

In the year before Paragon took over, the Riviera lost three key executives, including Larry King, chief financial officer, Bobby Ray Harris, senior vice president of operations, and Doug Poppa, security and surveillance director.

Those executive exits followed five years of financial struggle on the troubled north end of the Strip, an area blighted by Carl Icahn’s stalled Fontaine­bleau project and vacant stretches of land waiting for development.

When Paragon took over the Riviera in June 2013, Bennett and Menke pledged to “really put it back to Strip standards,” hiring new staff and up­dating the hotel-casino’s policies.

“It basically came down to what we know best,” Bennett said. “We gave the employees back their pride … It was basic ‘casino operations 101.’?”

Paragon, formed in 2000, began as a privately held company partnered with Native American tribes in the Western United States. It now operates three casinos in western Canada, including the River Creei Resort near Edmonton, Alberta, and soon will break ground on a 500-room hotel-casino in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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