Poker News

With the World Series of Poker (WSOP) only a little over three months away, rumors have once again begun to swirl regarding the sale of the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

According to noted Las Vegas journalist and gossip monger Robin Leach on the Law Vegas Weekly website, Caesars Entertainment is “about to” announce the sale of the off-Strip casino that has played host to the WSOP since 2005. Leach is reporting that the sale is to a major player in the Las Vegas hospitality development and management world, The Light Group. A look at the portfolio of The Light Group shows that the company plays a significant role in the Las Vegas “nightlife” scene, but is lacking in one key area.

The Light Group, which was founded by Andrew Sassoon and Andy Masi, operates many of the high profile nightspots in Las Vegas, including the Bank at the Bellagio, Jet at the Mirage, and Haze at the brand new Aria Resort and Casino. Through the development of these venues, The Light Group has been expanding its notoriety throughout Las Vegas. What was lacking, according to Leach, is the ownership of a hotel property.

Leach states that he first heard about the possibility of The Light Group getting into the casino ownership business around Thanksgiving and that they picked up steam through Christmas and New Year’s. “The buzz began when TLG owner Andrew Sassoon reportedly looked with serious interest at buying the troubled Hard Rock Hotel,” Leach wrote in his article, but he also stated that this rumor was quickly denied. He believed, however, that there was something to the rumors: “I had a hunch that I’d gotten the right information, but the wrong hotel.”

Several rumors about the sale of the Rio have been floating around since last year. In an August article on Poker News Daily, Seth Palansky, the Communications Director of Caesars Entertainment and the WSOP, denied rumors of the sale at the time: “We’ve already been meeting about the 2011 WSOP and are planning on having it at the Rio with the Main Event final table in November at the Penn and Teller Theater.”

In the same article, Caesars Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Gary Loveman also dispelled the rumors about a sale, focusing instead on how the company had been in acquisition mode rather than selling.

In a Business Week article from April 2010, rumors named two groups that were looking into purchasing the Rio. Starwood Capital Group LLC and Colony Capital LLC were among those groups mentioned, with a reported price of $500 million for the Rio. In his article, Leach reports that The Light Group has never been mentioned in any of the discussion regarding the sale of the Rio.

Opened in 1990, the Rio has been the host of the WSOP since 2005 after Harrah’s purchased the rights to the tournament and moved it from its historical base at Binion’s in Downtown Las Vegas. It features over 2,500 suites, 120,000 square feet of gaming space, and is home to top shows such as Penn and Teller.

Leach reported in his article that neither The Light Group nor Caesars Entertainment has responded to requests for confirmation of the deal. Even if the two companies deny the reported sale, Leach stands pat behind what he calls “solid rumors” that the sale is soon to occur.

Poker News Daily spoke with WSOP Vice President Ty Stewart regarding the rumors of the Rio sale. “The company (Caesars Entertainment) certainly has to listen to any interested buyer,” Stewart stated, while not confirming any action by the company. As to the status of the WSOP, Stewart said, “We truly believe that the WSOP will be better every year, with more space and more facilities. We recognize the advantages and disadvantages of the Rio. If we were going to move, we’d only move to superior accommodations.”

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