2016 Vegas Travel Course!

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This was the 11th year that Creighton’s Heider College of Business has provided the Las Vegas Travel Course for undergrad and graduate students.  We had an outstanding group of students this year, coming from our MBA, Law, undergrad, and even on-line MBA program!  Half the students had been to Vegas before (some over 10 years ago) while half had never been.


We visited many companies/organizations including:

  • Zappos
  • Howard Hughes Company
  • First Security Bank & Lucky Cab and Limousine  (Jason Awad)
  • Golden Nugget Casino  and Hotel
  • South Point Casino and Hotel
  • Wynn and Encore Hotel/Casinos
  • Rio Casino/Hotel/Convention center
  • MGM Hotel/Casino
  • Nevada Gaming Control Board (with Office Creighton Felt)
  • International Market Center
  • Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
  • City of Las Vegas Development Office
  • The Mob Museum
  • Hoover Dam!


A few of the interesting random aspects we learned about:

Vegas is a great place not just to learn about casinos, but to learn about business.  That was true this year, as it has been every year of this travel course.

Andy Gustafson




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Vegas Class 2016 March 6-12


2016 will be the 11th year that Creighton has offered the Las Vegas travel course.  We expect it to be fantastic, as always.  We visit many businesses including Zappos, Southpoint Casino, Wynn & Encore,  Venetian, MGM, Circus Circus, El Cortez, a Bank, a real estate company, Oscar Goodman the former Mayor, Creighton Alumni, and more…

We will stay at the Golden Nugget Casino in downtown Las Vegas, which is within walking distance of 8 other casinos, East Fremont street nightlife, and a short ride from the Strip.

Important details:

  1. To register, you simply need permission from Dr. Andy Gustafson andrewgustafson@creighton.edu
  2. Course fee is $600, which covers hotel, transport in Vegas, and some meals.
  3. You will buy: Your plane ticket to and from Vegas, and food (except for some dinners)
  4. Plane ticket: You must arrive Sunday morning by 10:30am. (no exceptions)

Hope you can join us this year!!

Andy Gustafson


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Vegas Class 2015

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This was the 10th year of the Las Vegas course.  Every year I lead this class, it is different.  There are some things we almost never miss– like a tour of the Wynn and Encore, Fremont Street, meeting with Oscar Goodman, and a trip to the Hoover dam.  But there are differences too– never is a hotel tour exactly the same two years in a row– not only because they are changing and developing, but because there are always things we haven’t got a chance to look at at the enormous properties we tour.

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This year, we got to see the new $38 million dollar professional bowling facility which SouthPoint put in.  They expect it to pay for itself in 4 years, and they have contracts for bowling league championships there until 2029.  We also got to tour the arena at MGM where basketball is played.

Of course the other interesting aspect of change is the mix of students who come.  Being a teacher for a class like this is not unlike the cooking shows where you are given a set of ingredients and then challenged to ‘make something’ which is delicious.  Some classes are easier to work with than others, and this year’s class was exceptional.  People asked good questions, they wer eenthusiastic, and had good attitudes throughout.  That makes all the difference.

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We stayed once again at the Golden Nugget, a jewel at the end of Fremont street, and nearby to nearly a dozen casinos and probably 50 eating establishments.  We did casino tours of the Golden Nugget, Southpoint (owned by Michael Gaughan, a CU alum), MGM, Rio (a Ceasars property), and the Wynn/Encore.  We also met with Oscar Goodman, the City devlopment office, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Nevada Gaming Authority, and Zappos.

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I am thankful for the opportunity to put on this course– always learn a lot each year, and am challenged in different ways.  This year was especially gratifying, as I got to interact with some students from previous years– One of the 2014 students happened to be in town the last night we were in Vegas, and he stopped by to share his experience of the course and hear about others’ thoughts and responses.  One of the 2010 students happened to be on a cross country road trip and we had a long converstation one evening about many topics.  Lastly, another student from 2014 assisted us on our tour of the Golden Nugget, where she now works.  As I said, I am thankful for this class, and the opportunities it brings…

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The Rio, the Linq, and Ceasar’s/Harrah’s Corporation…

th_IMG_2324 — by Andy Gustafson

Harrah’s Entertainment bought Ceasars Entertainment in 2005, and took the Ceasars name as its own in 2010.   Ceasars is huge, and own more than 50 casinos in states from california to Maryland, and Uragway, Brittain, and soon South Korea.  They have many brands including Horseshoe, Harrah’s, Ceasars, Bally’s, and many famous casinos such as Ceasars Palace, RIO, Flamingo, Paris, and many others.

th_IMG_2330Harrah’s was a pioneer in keeping  track of and rewarding customers through their total rewards program.  This enables customers who gamble in one casino in, say, Iowa, to build up their ‘rewards’ at any other casino in the country or world.  (Its similar in some respects to a ‘Bakers’ card or ‘walgreens’ card.)  They also were pioneers in ‘responsible gaming’ and helped develop rules and programs for people who have gambling problems.

One of the latest new projects on the strip for Ceasars is the Linq Hotel and casino, and the adjacent Bloq– a passageway lined with shops going from the Strip to the new Highroller– a 550 ft hgh ferris wheel with ‘pods’ which hold up to 40 people each.

th_IMG_2322   th_IMG_2327This year we visited the Rio, a near-strip location (on the west side of I-15) which is famous for the Penn and Tiller show, among other things.  It has recently added a zipline to its rooftop bar, allowing patrons to zip from one tower to the other.


th_IMG_2328    th_IMG_2329Despite their size, and their history of innovation, they recently formed for bankruptcy protection to help them reorganize their debt.  This is due to many things– in 2013 they had around 8.5 billion in revenue, but almost $3 billion in net losses.  Part of this had to do with the fact that their current owners, mostly private equity investors, had taken the company private by borrowing $20 Billion.  Ceasars also lost out on Macau– Wynn, Sands, and MGM who did get into Macau around 2007 now find that the majority of their net income comes from Macau– Macau did $45 billion in gaming business in 2013, while Vegas did almost $7 Billion– around 1/6 of Macau total.

Ceasars will come through this eventually.  They recently stopped some pension payments, but it is likely that these things will be resolved soon.

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Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, and the Water Issue


In the last 15 years, Lake Mead has gone down 130 feet.  Sustained drought conditions, and water use by cities and farmers has brought the lake to new lows.  Hoover Dam, which went online in 1936 is also not able to produce as much electricity.  The outtake pipes, which use water from Lake Mead for cities including Las Vegas, are in danger of running dry, so a new $817 million  set of ‘straws‘ should be complete by summer 2016.

th_IMG_2250 th_IMG_2254  When you visit the dam, you can definitely see how the water level has gone down.  The other interesting new site at the Dam is the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.  It is the new bypass bridge which connects arizona to Las Vegas and beyond.  After 9-11, trucks we no longer allowed to go across the Dam, for fear of terrorist attacks.  That obviously rerouted most of that truck traffic so that trucks had to cross into Nevada almost 2 hrs south.  Now trucks can use the Tillman bridge, and pedestrians can walk up on the bridge and get spectacular views of the dam from above.






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The Last Days of the Riviera

th_20150305_163428  — by Andy Gustafson

In February, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced that it had purchased the Riviera, and would be closing it in May, and will likely be imploded, to make way for new construction by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, who already operates the Las Vegas Convention Center and promotes Las Vegas for conventions.

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The Riviera has been around for 60 years, and had entertainers from Joan Rivers to Kenny Rogers grace its stage.  In recent years it had some lesser comedy acts and even bawdy risque shows, but even that couldn’t save it.  It had recently had a turnaround and started having positive cashflow.  The selling price of 182.5 Million was substantial.


As you walk around, you get the sense that its in its last weeks– the shelves are not completely stocked, they say they’ve already run out of match-books and aren’t printing any more, and while the facility is in nice shape generally, there is a remarkable sense that time is short for this place.

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Its rooms are still very nice, and the property has been kept up well.  But with the downturn of the economy just after close-by properties like the Frontier and Westward Ho had been town down (expecting new development) and the Eschelon by Boyd Gaming stopped halfway through construction, not to mention the huge empty and abandoned fountainblue to the north, with its rusting girders and blown out windows– the Riviera suffered from a loss of foot traffic which eventually did it in.  Its only real neighbor was Circus Circus, after its far-north neighbor the Sahara closed in 2011.

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The Riviera is Closing May 4th.

 by Andy Gustafson

photo credit

I’m nostalgic about casino-hotels that close.  I stayed at the Westward-Ho casino shortly before it was town down. I stayed at the Sahara the last week that is was open in 2011.  And now the Riviera is about to close and be town down.  So, of course, I’ve booked a room for my stay there in March.

It was used as a filming location for films like Oceans 11, Casino, Austin Powers, 21, Vegas Vacation, and many others.  It had stars like Debbie Reynolds, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Junior, Barry Manilow, Elvis, Joan Rivers, Kenny Rogers and the Village People grace its stage.  But with the demolition of the neighboring Stardust, Westward Ho and New Frontier, the Riviera lost foot traffic at the north end of the strip, and when the planned developments to replace those old casinos never happened, the Riviera started bleeding money.

In the first quarter of 2010, the Riviera lost 4.5 Million on 30.4 million in revenue.  This month (feb 2015) the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority bought the Riviera for 182.5 Million, and just announced plans to tear it down and build on the site.  

Progress– it means old things go away, and new things appear.  The Riviera’s closure is not a surprise.  I’m always sad to see old casinos torn down, but its good that in this case, the developer has the resources to follow through and make something good happen on the strip.

Here is some history on the Riviera from this A2Zlas vegas site

Opened April 20, 1955


When the Riviera Hotel & Casino opened, it was the first high-rise resort with nine stories comprising of the casino, shops, and 300 deluxe rooms. An architectural departure for Las Vegas, the Riviera looked like it belonged on Miami Beach, which was the design of architect Roy France and Son who were based in Miami.

The Riviera was originally the dream of a group of Miami investors headed by Florida businessman Sam Cohen. These investors formed the Riviera Hotel Company, which in turn leased the land from the Gensbro Hotel Company.

The resort contained the Hickory Room Restaurant, Cafe Noir, Le Bistro, and the Clover Room showroom, as well as an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The casino contained 18 table games and 116 slot machines, and though modest by today’s standards, it was considered the place for high-rollers.

The lavish debut of the Riviera was on April 20, 1955. The grandest opening to date, the Clover Showroom starred Liberace with actress Joan Crawford serving as official hostess. The effervescent showman was paid $50,000 a week. Liberace was playing at the New Frontier for $750 a week.

The Miami-oriented operators were unaccustomed to gaming and they ran into trouble. The hotel sustained large losses and went bankrupt in July of 1955. Gensbro Hotel Co., the Riviera’s landlord, assumed control and immediately began a search for new operators.

Gensbro had arranged for Flamingo’s Gus Greenbaum, Ben Goffstein, Harry S. Goldman, Ross Miller, Dave Berman, Jess Goodman, Charles Harrison, and Frank, Fred and Elias Atol, to take over. With Greenbaum taking the lead, major operational changes occurred resulting in financial stability.

In 1959, Riviera was sold to a group headed by Ed Levinson of the Fremont Hotel, and Carl Cohen and Jack Entratter of the Sands Hotel.

In October of 1959, Riviera planned to spend $3.5 million for remodelling including the addition of 114 deluxe guest rooms as well as a skyroom on the 10th floor of the hotel, in which dusk to dawn dancing was be featured.

In 1960, Riviera changed the Clover Room’s name to the Versailles Theatre. The Riviera was financially afloat. Zoppi credited the highly successful Starlight Theatre for supporting the resort.

In 1965, Hotel Riviera, Inc., bought out the interest of Gensbro, Co., becoming sole owner of the hotel and its property.

In 1967, the Riviera added a 200-room wing, an elevator penthouse, a 9,000-square-foot lobby, and 10,000 square feet of office and meeting space. Dean Martin became a 10% owner with approximately 8,000 shares, and Dino’s Den was named after him.

Four championship tennis courts were added near the pool in 1972, and they were later to be the site of the Dewar’s Celebrity-Pro Tennis Tournament.

In February or March of 1973, Meshulam Riklis of American International TravelServices of Boston bought the Riviera for $56 million. In July of 1973, it was announced that Dean Martin was released from his contract at Riviera so he could sign a contract with the MGM Grand.

In 1975, the Riviera added its 17-story Monte Carlo tower at a cost of $20 million. It consisted of 300 rooms, 60 suites, and an elaborate penthouse, giving the resort a total of 1,000 guest rooms.

In 1977, the Riviera’s San Remo tower added 200 rooms to the south side of the resort, as well as the elegant Ristorante Italiano, a 100-seat gourmet Italian restaurant.

In 1984, Riviera filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Arthur Waltzman was named president in July in an effort to get the Riviera back on her feet. Waltzman helped Riviera jump out of Chapter 11 in 1985.

On June 21, 1985, the Riviera took at bold step toward providing a new type of showroom entertainment, unveiling Splash starring Frank Gorshin. The “aquacade of music and dance” took place in and around a 20,000-gallon aquarium while featuring numerous performers and speciality acts.

Later in 1985, the Riviera introduced Norbert Aleman’s “An Evening at La Cage,” in theMardi Gras Showroom, a Parisian-style revue of female impersonators and cabaret dancers. The star of the show was a 20 year old Frank Marino.

In 1987, Riviera opened its topless comedy revue Crazy Girls.

In 1988, the Riviera added the 24-story Monaco Tower costing $28 million and nearly doubling the resort’s size to 2,100 rooms.

In 1990, Riviera expanded its casino to 70,000 square feet for a total of nearly 125,000 square feet out to the sidewalk, making it one of the largest casinos in the world offering reel slots and video games, table games, poker, keno, bingo, and a complete race and sports book.

On May 10, 1997, Riviera revealed the largest lifecast bronze statue in the world of Crazy Girls, created by Michael Conine, to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the show.

In 1999 Riviera showcased her skyboxes. The boxes are 12 rooms which sit above the Royale Pavilion. These boxes are available for special concerts, including Super Bowl, and various other convention bookings. The boxes come with a private bartender, servers, and network feeds on two televisions. Ranging from 600 square feet to 1,024 square feet, skyboxes can be combined to accommodate larger gatherings. These Skyboxes have been rented for seminars, sales meeting and birthday parties.

On February 2, 2000, Splash unveiled its new show replacing the water tank with The World’s Record holders of “Bela Tabak’s Riders of the Thunderdome” (often referred to as the globe of death) along with a variety of amazing acts including ice skaters.

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