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WSOP May Need a New Home in 2015 if Rio Sale Rumors are True

Could the World Series of Poker be looking for a new home in the near future?

It’s a distinct possibility, if the rumors of a possible sale or closure of the Rio have any truth to them.

The first hint of a potential sale occurred when Robin Leach (yes, that Robin Leach) tweeted out on October 4th that a major off-Strip hotel had just sold for $400 million.

Leach’s vague rumor of the sale of an unnamed off-strip hotel (which many immediately assumed was the Rio) picked up even more steam this week when a thread sprang up on 2+2, where user ‘KKAnderson’ stated he was “just advised by a confidential employee that the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas will be closing.”

According to KKAnderson, “all employees were pulled in last month [late Sep 2014] and advised of this transition, as they were offered opportunities to transfer elsewhere within Caesars.”

The following day, on Thursday, @VitalVegas tweeted out the following message, echoing KKAnderson’s 2+2 post –

“Rumors persist something serious is up at Rio Vegas. Some saying sold, some saying employess offered transfers to other Caesars resorts.”

It’s unclear if this tweet was confirming or if it was using the 2+2 thread as a source.

While there is certainly a bit of smoke, it’s important to point out that nobody has seen any flames yet.

Gaming has not been notified as it would have to be in the event of a sale or closure, nor has there been an official announcement of the Rio’s 5,000 or so employees receiving WARN letters.

Using the recent history of Atlantic City sales and closures, the sale or closure of the Rio would likely be reported more widely than on Twitter or poker forums… Unless the sale is still unofficial and is more of a handshake agreement at this point.

Long history of sale rumors

The Rio has been rumored to be on the market for several years, with sale rumors dating as far back as 2010, when Caesars Entertainment was still Harrah’s Entertainment.

Interestingly, Leach hinted at a possible Rio sale back in 2011, a sale that obviously never occurred.

More rumors (sexy rumors at that) surfaced in 2013, when Forbes’ Nathan Vardi reported that Caesars had contacted PokerStars about possibly buying the Rio along with the World Series of Poker. Eric Hollreiser, PokerStars current Head of Corporate Communications, was quoted in the column as saying:

“Caesars Entertainment approached PokerStars and offered to sell us certain assets, such as the Rio Casino in Las Vegas. Caesars suggested that this acquisition would give us a better relationship with Caesars and would help PokerStars gain a license in Nevada… PokerStars declined the offer because we had no plans to acquire another casino in the near term.”

Quite frankly, Rio sale rumors are nothing new.

Why would Caesars sell the Rio?

While the Rio is well known in poker circles due to its fortuitous hosting of the World Series of Poker, the casino itself is far from a moneymaker for Caesars. The property is located off the strip and isn’t even a popular destination among Las Vegas locals.

The company is also in dire financial straits, doing everything it can to stave off a bankruptcy restructuring. Earlier this year, Caesars Entertainment sold four casino properties to one of its subsidiary companies, and also shuttered the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City as well as selling off the already closed Atlantic Club which Caesars picked up in a bankruptcy auction in December of 2013.

In September, the company began talking with bondholders about their mounting debt, which currently stands at well over $23 billion.

Could the WSOP still be on the table?

Earlier rumors of a Rio sale also included the possibility of Caesars trying to sell one of its top assets, the World Series of Poker. However, this was before Caesars launched online poker in Nevada and in New Jersey, and considering the company is now heavily involved in the online gambling sphere in the U.S., a sale of the WSOP brand seems more unlikely.

Considering the time and investment the company has put into developing, one would think the WSOP would not be up for sale, but then again, the company’s debt obligations are only getting worse, and they may be willing to spin off the Rio, the WSOP, and perhaps for the right price.

Or, more likely, these are all just rumors and the WSOP will remain in Caesars’ control and the 2015 WSOP will once again fill up the Amazon, Brasilia, and Pavilion rooms at the Rio.



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Steve Ruddock

Steve is veteran of the the poker industry, first as a player and now as a writer focusing mainly on the regulated U.S. markets and the politics of poker. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRuddock and at Google+.