The History of the Riviera

Sin city recently bid farewell to one of its oldest friends and icons, Riviera hotel and casino. With a firework backdrop the first implosion to demolish the landmark took place on June 14th 2016, reducing most of the building to ashes and making way for a conferencing and events space.

After being originally suggested under the name of ‘the Casa Blanca’, the Riviera first opened its doors 1955 as the first high rise and ninth resort on the strip. Most casinos and hotels of the time only stood up to two stories high so, for the time, The Riviera was by far the most extravagant hotel on the Vegas strip, boasting over 300 rooms and an Olympic sized swimming pool.

Riviera hotel and casino

The casino itself held 18 tables and 116 slot machines, minuscule by today’s standards but back in the day it was seen as the ultimate place for high rollers to gamble.

Eclectic pianist, Liberace, cut the ribbon at the grand opening and became the first resident performer, with the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra also gracing the stage at the Riviera.

These famous faces and glitzy beginnings were just the front for the underlying mob activity. In the 1960s, the hotel and casino was licensed to Ross Miller and Bernie Nemerov. Miller was a Chicago bookmaker closely connected with ‘the Outfit’. His son became the governor of Nevada. Riviera executives were charged for skimming from the casino for the mob in 1967. It is also believed to have been the site of mob-related hits and only outranked for its seediness by The Flamingo.

As such an iconic mobster relic it is no surprise that the Riviera has been the backdrop for many famous films such as the original 1960 Ocean’s Eleven Starring Frank Sinatra, Martin Scorsese’s 1995 crime drama, Casino starring Robert De Niro, as well as, X rated cult classic Show Girls, Austin Powers International Man of Mystery and most recently The Hangover, starring Bradley Cooper and Zac Galifianakis.

In spite of its notoriety and being a Vegas gem, the Riviera was never a money maker, going bankrupt for the first time just three months after opening its doors. As it passed ownership from one person to another the money troubles were never really solved and in 2010 Riviera Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The decline in the establishment’s popularity can be attributed to the decline in foot traffic. The Riviera used to sit amongst the greats, such as Stardust, New Frontier and Westward Ho, all of which were demolished.

Despite the financial troubles, over the years the Riviera has handed out some large lump sums to lucky individuals. In August 2013 a Delaware resident called Mozelle Wallace decided to try her luck on her 69th birthday with a 25 cent Riviera slot machine. On only her second pull three wheel of fortunes appeared on the machine, meaning she would be walking away with $937,608.36, not bad for a 75 cent maximum bet.

A bigger win goes to a Virginia Noland from Westminster Colorado who played the 1,000,000 Degrees game and with her first $20 hit the jackpot, walking away with a massive $1,161,223.60 jackpot prize.

With this demolition Vegas says goodbye to one of the last standing mobster casinos on the strip, having already bid farewell to Dunes, Sands, Desert Inn and Stardust. The plans for the site is for it to become and expansion of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s Las Vegas Global Business District exhibit and meeting center project.