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The Rio Hotel & Casino Las Vegas revival is in full swing with Dreamscape founder and CEO Eric Birnbaum,

Renovations and partnerships enhance the iconic resort. By Ryan Slattery

Lights. Canteen. Action. The Rio Hotel & Casino’s revival is in full swing, and it’s a dream come true for Dreamscape founder and CEO Eric Birnbaum. His company acquired the property from Caesars Entertainment in 2019 and is now breathing new life into the historic, just-off-the-Strip property.
Since taking over operations on October 2, 203, Dreamscape has already made a flashy statement by replacing and synchronizing the building’s exterior LED lights. It is renovating all 1,500 rooms in the resort’s Ipanema Tower, opening the new Canteen Food Hall and refurbishing the pool. The Rio has also become a Hyatt-affiliated hotel, allowing World of Hyatt members to earn and redeem points for qualifying stays. As we  learned in a conversation with Birnbaum, there is much more in store. Here’s what the Dreamscape CEO told Casino Life about the plans for the property …

What is the overall vision for the property?

We are looking to completely revitalize the resort and restore it back to its original glory when Anthony Marnell first opened it in 1990. So much so that we have hired Marnell Companies to help us with the design and construction, to ensure we stay true to the spirit of its creation. We began the transition last July, taking down the old neon on the building. We have fully refurbished the exterior with new LED lighting and a fresh coat of paint.

Shortly after that we started the renovation of all  1,500 rooms in the Ipanema Tower and finished the complete refurbishment in January. Then we began demolition [of the buffet] and construction of the new Canteen Food Hall, which just opened with six new restaurants. Now as we move forward, we have started new enhancements that include the arrival area, lobby, gaming floor (including our 500 new slot machines), sports book, and multiple food and beverage outlets throughout the resort.

The remodel is well underway, with the most noticeable being the new LED lighting on the building. Why was this one of the first renovations made?

The light installation brings life, energy and excitement to The Rio for Las Vegas visitors to experience off-Strip.We partnered with legendary lighting designers Chris Kuroda and Andrew Giffin. The expansive installation features over three miles of programmable LEDs to
create an ever-evolving light show that can be seen across the Las Vegas Valley. Convincing Chris to work with us has been one of the best things we have done and the lighting looks absolutely amazing. Chris is best known for his work with the renowned jam band
Phish, spanning over 35 years and almost 1,800 live shows. When visitors are able to see the building firsthand, they will know exactly why he is such an icon. 
The suites in the Ipanema Tower have already been remodeled. Can you describe the design?
The standard, oversized, 580-square-foot guest rooms have been significantly upgraded with all new furnishings and fittings, a tub-to-shower conversion, and separate living and sleeping zones. The custom furnishings are versatile, catering to both work and play,
featuring a state-of-the-art, 65-inch television, a sectional sofa with a queen-size pull-out bed, and a walk-in shower. The newly remodeled rooms provide resort guests with the ideal place to recharge, work or play.
The new design aims to showcase the iconic architecture and foundation of the property while delivering an elevated yet approachable luxury experience for guests. The Ipanema Tower designs draw inspiration from contemporary and stylish apartments near Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, referencing the collected furnishings, sense of handcraft and timeless flamboyance of Brazilian design. The art collection focuses on Brazilian artists and/or subjects while lending a more authentic art sensibility than average hotel art. 
With the Ipanema Tower renovations complete, what’s in store for the other hotel towers?
The Masquerade Tower is scheduled to be refreshed starting this spring, with an estimated completion by late summer. It will then go into a complete remodel sometime starting in 2025. Food halls have become a new trend and Canteen delivers in a big way. Kiosks make ordering easy and the prices are affordable. Tell us how it came together. Just like our past guests, we all loved the Carnival World Buffet. But by the time we took over operations, the world had changed, especially post-Covid. Although nostalgic, we recognized that Las Vegas visitors were looking for a new type of culinary experience that gave them similar choices to a buffet, but also focused more on quality and especially doing it in a safe environment. We are very focused on providing value to our guests, and we think the Canteen Food Hall provides everything our guests would want at a more affordable price and in an approachable space. We couldn’t be happier with the six new dining destinations at Canteen. And do not ask me which is my favorite. I love them all. The six culinary concepts are: Tender Crush, Nama Nama sushi, Attaboy Burger, Southland Burrito Co., Shogun Ramen and Tony Luke’s cheesesteaks.
You inherited several restaurants. Can you give us an update on which ones are staying and what new venues are on the way?
We recently announced Luckley Tavern & Grill by Las Vegas industry veteran Oliver Wharton and his company, A Perfect Bite. This will replace the popular All-American Bar & Grill. Luckley will be located in the center of the casino floor, right in the middle all of the action. We have either signed or are in active discussions with multiple restaurants that we believe will enhance the Rio experience and provide new choices for our guests. For now, you will just have to wait to hear what they are, but we look forward to announcing each new concept in the months ahead.
What is Luckley?
Luckley Tavern & Grill will be an enticing, new, American-dining venture, set to debut in late May 2024. The restaurant draws inspiration from the idyllic Cotswold hills of the English countryside, and interestingly enough, that is the home of A Perfect Bite founder Oliver Wharton’s family. Luckley will be right in the heart of the Rio casino floor and will offer both lunch and dinner.
This place is going to have an amazing bar featuring an eclectic selection of draft beers, good wines and some very creative cocktails. Is Guy Fieri’s El Burro Borracho remaining at the property?
Burro Borracho is open and serving guests daily. Having such an approachable personality as Guy Fieri at the helm of one of our restaurants aligns with our vision to provide unique and accessible cuisine to Rio guests.
Will the sports book be remodeled?
Yes, a sports book update is currently in the design process. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to share at this point as we have just started the reimagination of the space.
What are the plans for Masquerade Village?
That is also being discussed as we speak. We have met with multiple interested parties, and many of the creative and unique ideas on what could potentially be done there are being considered
Will VooDoo see a revamp?
Yes, VooDoo Steak is open and still provides what I believe is the best view of the Las Vegas Strip. Both the steakhouse and VooDoo Lounge directly above it are scheduled for a complete refresh this year, but they will continue to provide Las Vegas visitors with great food 51 stories in the sky.
Hearing there are some exciting changes coming to the Wine Cellar. Can you explain?
The Wine Cellar is coming back. It will be open by the end of March. It is one of Las Vegas’s best-kept secrets, but from the number of people who ask me if we are reopening that space it is clearly not a secret to everyone. You can expect more of the same when it reopens, including a great selection of wines served in what could easily be confused with a wine cellar in Italy. But we are bringing a new twist to the cellar. For the first time, the Wine Cellar will provide an extensive selection of tequila, whiskey and specialty bourbons.
What can we expect on the entertainment side?
At this time, we’re not scheduled to make any changes to our entertainment. Penn & Teller just celebrated 23 years at Rio and we have extended their historic run though 2026. The Comedy Cellar continues to entertain guests and bring in some of the best comedy in the city. And Chippendales provides guests and visitors alike with a true Las Vegas experience.
You’ve launched the new Rio Rewards program. How does that work?
We want to be the resort where people want to stay and play, so we created Rio Rewards, which is one of the most lucrative rewards programs in Las Vegas. It offers players more value per dollar spent than almost anywhere in the entire Las Vegas Valley. We set out with a goal to be the top gaming destination for locals and visitors alike, and it has been met with nothing but positive feedback so far. Rio Rewards features four unique tiers: Rouge, Azul (10,000 points), Gold (50,000 points) and Platinum (250,000 points). All offer multiple benefits, including special pricing on hotel accommodations, complimentary show tickets, early check-in, monthly dining credit and much more.
The pool was renovated as well, correct?
Yes, the 15,000-square-foot pool deck renovations are complete. The renovation features new landscaping, multicolored chairs and umbrellas, and a design inspired by the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. And yes, the waterfalls are back and better than ever.
Rio also has one of the largest convention centers in Las Vegas. What improvements have you done there?
Rio’s convention center has more than 220,000 square feet of renovated function space. The upgrades, including a revamped carpet design and new digital signage, not only enhance the aesthetic appeal but also contribute to the overall functionality and flexibility of the convention facilities. It is one of the most versatile meeting spaces in the entire city. We believe that once meeting planners see this upgraded facility, they will feel the exact same way.

Casino Life would like to thank Dreamscape founder and CEO Eric Birnbaum for taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview.


*** This exclusive feature interview was originally published in May 2024 edition of Casino Life Magazine Issue 165 ***