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Wicked whispers & racy rumors: Is The Light Group buying The Rio?

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Denise Truscello/WireImage

Penn Jillette, Jeff Solomon, Michael Weaver and Teller at the 10th anniversary celebration of Penn & Teller and their new three-year contract at The Rio on Oct. 26, 2010.

Robin Leach's Vegas DeLuxe

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Penn and Teller's 10th Anniversary

Penn & Teller at the 10th anniversary celebration of Penn & Teller and their new three-year contract at The Rio on Oct. 26, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Is Caesars Entertainment about to announce the sale of its off-Strip The Rio? Is the giant nightlife company The Light Group, which owns Jet at The Mirage, The Bank at the Bellagio, Haze at Aria, plus a slew of hip hotspot restaurants and pool clubs on The Strip, about to announce it’s the purchaser?

That’s the growing buzz late yesterday and through the night! And I now have that tip from three reliable sources. I have placed calls for confirmation or denial to the PR executives at The Light Group and Caesars Entertainment, and we’ll add those responses the moment we receive them.

Normally, I would keep this as a blind item in our daily Strip Scribbles column without identifying the buyer and seller. But it’s a major development that I have been following since before Christmas.

We first heard the story of a mega Light Group expansion around Thanksgiving and watched the developments through the holidays, expecting an announcement to start the New Year. The buzz began when TLG owner Andrew Sassoon reportedly looked with serious interest at buying the troubled Hard Rock Hotel. That rumor was promptly denied, but I had a hunch that I’d gotten the right information but the wrong hotel.

Now it appears as if the hotel was The Rio on West Flamingo at the I-15 owned by Caesars Entertainment. Las Vegas developer Tony Marnell, who built The M Resort run by his son Anthony Marnell III, constructed The Rio. Back then, the Caesars corporate name was Harrah’s, and the giant entertainment and gaming company had moved Caesars Palace President Gary Selesner to The Rio to prepare it for a possible sale. Harrah’s also brought in architects and a building specialty company to fix Building Department Inspectors’ violations before a sale.

There were several independent confirmations that The Rio was available for purchase, but The Light Group’s name never surfaced as a buyer. It’s long been known in Las Vegas that Andrew wanted to add a hotel operation to his expanding list of venues. In fact, he was to run the still unoccupied and uncompleted Harmon Hotel at MGM’s CityCenter that’s the subject of a pending lawsuit against its construction company when building inspectors refused to allow it to be built higher after discovering inadequate steel rebar fabrication. In its last SEC filing, MGM said that the Harmon may have to be abandoned and torn down.

Andrew had promised the Harmon would be the world’s best and hippest boutique luxury hotel, but that dream went up in smoke with MGM’s construction problems. The Rio is proud of its luxurious Palazzo suites, where such stars as Cher and Elton John have stayed while performing at Caesars Palace. It’s also where Penn & Teller, The Rio’s resident magicians, recently celebrated their anniversary and contract renewal.

Now it appears that Andrew might fulfill his dream at The Rio if the rumors over the past few weeks prove true. We await official response and will add that to this story upon receipt, even if all parties deny the solid rumors.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

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Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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