On Sept. 23, Caesars Entertainment announced it had finally sold the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, putting an end to one of the longest running rumors in Las Vegas. A company co-owned by Micheal Fascitelli — also a co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks — is buying the property for $516.3 million.
According to its press release, Caesars has agreed to lease the Rio back from Imperial Companies for two years at $45 million per year. The New York-based real estate company has the option to pay Caesars $7 million to extend the lease under the same terms for an additional year. Caesars is also retaining the rights to the lucrative World Series of Poker, which is expected to move to Caesars Palace sometime after 2020.
The Rio’s Voyage from Vegas Hot to Not
When it opened in 1990, the Rio was touted as the future of Las Vegas gambling. Upscale and off-Strip, the Rio attracted well-heeled locals and LA weekenders. Its rooftop Voodoo Lounge became party-central for recreational drug users and hookup culture devotees. In 1999, Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars) bought the Rio for $888 million.
Unfortunately for Harrah’s, it acquired the Rio near its peak. The Bellagio opened in ’98, soon followed by the Venetian in ’99. Rival nightclubs opened by the dozens. By the time the Wynn Las Vegas opened in ’05, the upscale crowd was firmly affixed on the Strip, and the Rio was treading water.
In late 2006, two private equity groups announced a leverage buyout of Harrah’s. They planned to offset some of the $17.1 billion price tag by selling some of Harrah’s poor performers. The rumor mill had the Rio near the top of the list. Timing, however, wasn’t on their side.
It took over a year for the Harrah’s acquisition to jump through all the regulatory hoops. By that time, the financial crisis was underway. Buyers were nonexistent, but the rumors surrounding Caesars’ sale of the Rio persisted.
Caesars’ Rio Sale Triggers New NBA Rumor
For years, there was a strong rumor that the Rio would become a train station for a high-speed rail line connecting Las Vegas with Southern California. And those rumors persisted right up until May 2019. That’s when the Trump administration pulled a $929 million grant from the California Hi-Speed Rail Authority.
In 2018, Caesars was going to sell the Rio to make way for an MLB ballpark, according to the rumors. A team of investors was actively pushing for a Vegas MLB team. It made sense. Now home to the NHL Golden Nights, the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, and soon-to-be NFL Las Vegas Raiders, other major league sports consider Vegas a viable location. And the Rio’s 100-acre lot could easily accommodate a major league stadium.
In June, Eldorado Resorts agreed to acquire Caesars, To seal the deal, Caesars would need to cut costs. The rumors that Caesars would push for a fast sale of the Rio began anew.
But while this sale ends the rumor about Caesars’ sale of the Rio, it starts another rumor. Imperial Companies is owned by Eric Birnbaum and Michael Fascitelli. While both have a long and successful real estate pedigrees, Fascitelli is also the co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Over the summer we heard a crazy rumor that the Rio sale somehow involved bringing an @NBA team to Las Vegas.
The guy who just bought the property from Caesars, Michael Fascitelli, is the co-owner of the Milwaukee @Bucks.
Make of that what you will… pic.twitter.com/bywTklDQIC
— Las Vegas Locally 🌴 (@LasVegasLocally) September 23, 2019