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Riviera casino embraces bingo, creates online link

LAS VEGAS >> The Las Vegas Strip’s only bingo room is going virtual.

The Riviera Hotel and Casino is launching a partnership with Buffalo Studios, the company behind the popular Facebook game Bingo Blitz, in a move designed to help the sruggling property attract new customers and expand into the growing world of online gaming, Riviera CEO Andy Choy told The Associated Press on Thursday

Starting this week, Bingo Blitz players will be able to play bingo on a Web page adorned with an image of the Riviera. Players will also be entered to win a free trip to attend the Riviera’s twice-yearly $200,000 bingo tournament.

The Riviera brought bingo back to the Las Vegas Strip last year in a bid to shore up its troubled empire. Riviera Holdings Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2010. A month after reopening its bingo room in Las Vegas last August, Riviera sold its casino in Black Hawk, Colo., for $76 million.

The Riviera’s primary challenge has been its isolated location on the north Strip, once the heart of Las Vegas’ casino industry. The area is now dotted with empty lots, partly finished resorts, low-end shops and properties that are past their prime. That has deterred walk-in traffic and made it difficult to raise rates.

“The property just kind of lost relevance,” Choy said. “What we are really trying to do now to bring it out of bankruptcy is to make it relevant in today’s market place.”

The casino’s partnership with Bingo Blitz symbolizes a push toward modernity and youthful gamblers. The game was the seventh most recommended on Facebook in 2011, and its players from across the globe log in daily to win virtual coins and communicate with other Bingo enthusiasts. As players win more points, they unlock new levels and prizes.

The idea is that those virtual dollars will translate into real cash for the Riviera. The casino’s Superstar Bingo tournament will feature 56 games over two days, with a minimum game payout of $3,000. The cost to participate in the casino’s July 14-15 tournament is $150.

“Bingo has always been a very social game,” said Salim Mitha, vice president of Buffalo Studios. “You went to a bingo hall and played with people and we’ve been able to translate that online.”

Las Vegas Strip casinos once promoted bingo as a way of getting gamblers in their doors to then play lucrative slot machines, said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In 1995, there were five casinos on the Strip with bingo. In later years, the game was replaced with slot machines and card tables that are more lucrative for their operators.

“Bingo is very popular, but it has a very small margin for the casinos,” Schwartz said. “It was never a game that you would see in a real high-end resort.”

The 2,075-room Riviera first opened in 1955 and has more than 800 slot machines on its 100,000-square-foot casino floor. It can’t compete with the Strip’s newest or most upscale resorts, so appealing to tourists who want to save money and play bingo is a smart move, Schwartz said.

“Without a doubt the recession has been really tough on them,” he said. “They are not going to get people who want to go to the best restaurant on the Strip or the people who want to go to a Cirque (du Soleil) show.”

The Riviera’s bingo room has drawn about 250 people a day since it opened, with an average buy in of $50. It has room for 175 players.

Choy said the Riviera has occasionally lost money on bingo, but offering the game helps entice new customers, an important benefit because the property can’t rely on foot traffic, unlike many Las Vegas casinos.

“There is a common misconception that bingo is an old person’s game, but the reality is the demographics with bingo go across the board,” he said. “There are a lot of bingo enthusiasts both here locally and across the world.”

Bingo Blitz launched in January 2011. Its players tend to range in age from 18 to 44.

Under the marketing partnership, the Riviera will pick two Bingo Blitz players each week to attend its upcoming tournament. The two previous events attracted 1,000 players each.

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