Judy Kay-Wolff

What A Difference The Years Make

Here I am at the popular District 17 Regional at the Riviera in Las Vegas two months short of fifty years after spending my honeymoon in Sin City in August of 1963.   We stayed at The Flamingo (compliments of Tobias Stone’s connections .. and friendship with Norman).   It was absolutely amazing.   I was starry-eyed as it was a far cry from the historic sites of Philadelphia.  There were not a flock of hotel casinos in those days.  In fact, I learned that The Riviera was the 7th one to appear on the scene.  According to a reliable internet source, this hotel’s address was listed as Winchester, Nevada.   That was news to me, so I checked it out and learned it was situated in an unincorporated town and part of LV Township of Clark County which was a section of the Las Vegas Strip.

The Riviera opened on April 20, 1955 as the first high-rise and the ninth resort on the Las Vegas Strip. It is one of the oldest and most famous casino resorts here. It also broke new ground in its design. Previously Strip resorts resembled roadside motor courts.   I must confess, I do remember visions of those motels which served as great conveniences for motorists.

The opening of the Riviera, along with The Dunes and the Royal Nevada casino resorts within a month were the subject of a famous issue of Life Magazine, on June 20, 1955. The headline was Las Vegas—Is Boom Overextended? and a story about how Las Vegas had built too many hotel rooms to be profitable.  In retrospect, it is ludicrous!  Too many?  Never!  Peering out of the rotating top of the Stratosphere all you can see in the distance are immense high rise casinos with neon lights galore.

As I walked through the halls of this old (though renovated) relic, I saw countless nostalgic photos of the beloved entertainers of my day – with dates and names.   Some reminders of their talents also appear in the elevators.  My memory is not as keen as in earlier years (as witnessed by occasional lapses at the bridge table though somehow Bobby is able to compensate for them) – but coming back from breakfast this morning, I leisurely inspected them and found (photographed either alone, in pairs or groups) some of my all-time favorites … Jack Benny, George Burns (who at 96 in 1993 got a lifetime contract to The Riviera),  Jack E. Leonard, Milton Berle, Bob  Hope, Marlena Dietrich and Satchmo,  Engelbert Humperdink and Elvis, a then relatively unknown Barbara Streisand who appeared in a bit part at the hotel, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. Jerry Lewis, Mamie van Doren, Lionel Hampton, Liberace, Liza Minnelli .. and so many more.  Those were the days.   Now most are dead and gone but their legendary talents will forever remain with us. 

The hotel has visibly lost its early glamour and the facilities are all downhill and sinking fast.   As mentioned earlier, the casino allures are virtually empty.   Out of curiosity, I asked a dealer at the $25 BJ table what became of the $5.00 ones and he replied four weeks ago they upped them to a $10.00 minimum (as they no doubt could not make a go of it by accommodating the two-bit players like myself).  And, immodestly Bobby tells me I play BJ better than he does.  Honest Injun!  However, I am a lousy loser and would rather spend it at Chico’s than lose it at the table.  Born and raised in Philly (only sixty miles from Atlantic City) when casino gambling came upon the scene in 1978 at Resorts, my old friend and partner, Barbara Brier, and I were regulars from the 10 a.m. openings till late afternoon — so when I moved here, gambling was no big deal.  I could take it or leave it.   Active blogging on this site, one long running Soap Opera I’ve watched for thirty years and taping CSI and Law and Order SVU, et al. are more enticing to me than the sporting tables.  They’re perfect for fifteen or twenty minutes before dinner at our nearby Sun Coast – but I could survive without seeing another blackjack table ever again. 

Sorry I have gotten sidetracked by personal memories, but what I intended to stress is how the older casinos now lack luster.   The hotel’s eating facilities (excluding the somewhat pricy – but excellent cuisine of the R Steakhouse) won’t make The Hit Parade because of their chintzy portions, excessive prices, absolutely hopeless service, length of waiting time for seating and obvious shortage of help) and are uninviting.  Blame our current administration if you will – but the restaurant staff is certainly affected by the 29-employee limit to avert additional taxes.  Sometimes it is difficult to even understand or make oneself understood because of the language barriers and twice this week, we have received something we did not order.  They do have a Food Court but it is a hike away from the main thrust of the hotel and unless you like jogging, you are too tired to eat by the time you arrive there.  There is also a relatively cheap upstairs buffet – but nothing to write home about.  Most convenient (near the playing space) is a Java Bar which features beverages, sandwiches, croissants and has a few small tables to accommodate customers.  The lines are long and the table space not always available.  So, as I see it, filling the belly (despite the preponderance of options) is not ideal.

In addition, the allure of gambling is faltering.  To most of the tournament attendees it is not a novelty as we no longer see bridge players in the casino at the tables where they would frequently cluster between sessions.  The hotel’s physical facilities are adequate at best, although the hotel workers are lovely and accommodating.  Yes, the playing space is fine and the bridge personnel is top-notch and untiring.   Jane and Bruce Rubin, Co-Chairs, have virtually killed themselves in putting on this event and made the best of what they had been dealt.   Hopefully, our sites will be improved and the accoutrements as well. 

To me, the decor of the Riviera with all it’s priceless photos are reminiscent of the thrilling early days of an up and coming form of entertainment — but as we are aware, all good things eventually come to pass – and affordable bridge comfort is our primary focus.


Jane AJune 23rd, 2013 at 12:38 pm

To continue on with Judy’s comments, there was a shakeup at the top of Riviera management on Friday as well. This is always a concern to all the employees. I agree with Judy’s comments, and also agree that the hotel staff has been wonderful. I have been there every day working the tournament, and the staff and all our volunteers have been terrific. The best parts about the Riv for me are the playing rooms, the side rooms for the ancillary needs of the tournament (partnerships, section top awards, caddy room, etc) and the location for drive time for me is pretty good. I don’t stay at the hotel, but my section top co chair did, and her room, although dated in decor, was lovely, clean, and spacious.

I enjoyed seeing all the old photos of the entertainers, and it brought back memories of “old Vegas”. Times have certainly changed. On Friday, I saw the younger generation coming in and out of the hotel in their cute costumes for the big party rave being held north of town, and all the “karate kids” as well as there was a martial arts group just down the hall from the downstairs playing site. Viva the difference. I don’t gamble, so the allure of gaming is not important for me either.

This will probably be our last time at the Riv, and even though the facility is dated and the food service is a concern, I will miss the old girl. This comes from one “old girl” to another. I am older than the Riv.

Jane and Bruce Rubin have been the best to work for, and with. Jane is our “energizer bunny”. I get tired just watching her! I used to chair our sectionals in Missouri, but that was nothing compared to chairing the tournaments in Las Vegas. The time and effort the tournament co chairs put forth to make the Vegas tournaments fun for all of us is incredible. Whomever is willing to take this job gets a standing ovation from me. I know I am not up for the task.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 23rd, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Hi Jane A:

Every time I passed you in the hallway, you were busy hustling. I have NEVER seen a harder and more accommodating working staff than witnessed at the Riv. As far as it’s age (as compared to yours) — I have you both beat by a couple of decades — and am beginning to show the worse for wear and tear as well.

My biggest complaint (which I have been harboring all week) is a crappy subject to mention but I learned I was not alone. I was talking to another bridge player on the elevator (whom I had seen but did not know) and learned we shared a common complaint. The gal mentioned her toilet was not working on a regular basis (not intended as a pun). Sometimes ours was on the fritz for as long as fifteen minutes. However, I shared with her the secret of my trial and error success. You must wait a bit then hit the handle hard (holding it down) and it gets the job done. Took a few days to figure it out but my solving skills weaken with age. Anyway — it will be good to be home sweet home tonight. I am not as resilient as in earlier days — but I am sure after I get this week’s laundry taken care of, I will be as good as new and ready for our Tuesday game. See you then.

Jane AJune 23rd, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Hustling is a funny comment, because Jacque and I told folks were were “working the room” so to speak. The section top room, that is. We got lots of laughs, and we laughed a lot during this week. I also learned a lot, and assuming that Jane and Bruce don’t fire me from my position, I have some minor tweaks to suggest to make the section top area flow a little more smoothly. My volunteers were awesome, and Jacque and I are so appreciative of all the time they gave us. Jacque covered the late shift, and from what I hear, she and Rick Price had the folks dancing a Conga line around the section top room on Friday night. You go, girl!

One more day! Fast pairs, then inventory, and then time to crash. Viva Las Vegas.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 23rd, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Jane A:

Cute story — and our own Carmen Mirandas — to boot. Remember the One, Two, Three Kick routine! Or, was she much before your time?

JSJune 23rd, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Didn’t you know — you can’t make a sow’s ear into a silk purse???

Judy Kay-WolffJune 23rd, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Hi JS:

Of course, I did — but let’s face it: the function at task is not an added amenity — but rather a necessity.

Georgiana GatesJune 25th, 2013 at 4:09 pm

In 1958, my family took a trip from Chicago to California. We took the southern route going, and stopped in Las Vegas. We stayed at the Riviera and paid $15 a room, which my parents thought was an excellent price.

I remember the Riviera as far more “fancy” than anything I’d seen in Chicago, and it was far away from other hotels. But I certainly can’t comment about the casino, since I was too young to be allowed there.

Jane AJune 25th, 2013 at 4:55 pm

My first trip to Las Vegas was in 1969, and we stayed at the Tropicana. It was the nicest place I had ever seen. We probably paid about the same price as mentioned above, but I don’t remember. A few years later we were in Vegas again and got to see a James Bond movie being filmed at the Riv, I think. It starred Jill St. John and Sean, the original Bond, who is still my husband’s favorite Bond. There they both were, all decked out in evening clothes, with the film crew and cameras everywhere. It was such fun. She was gorgeous, he was so handsome. That is the closest I have ever come to real movie stars. I am not a “star struck” person, but that was fun to see.

One more Las Vegas regional is now in the can. I hope all who came had a great time. Next year, our regional is in January since the nationals are here in the summer of 2014. Hope to see all of you back.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 25th, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Hi Georgiana:

It’s so funny to hear the stories of Vegas in the (shall we say) “old days.”

Back in the late fifties it was no doubt a showplace — new, exciting, star-studded, gambling was just getting on the map — AND — it was not expensive. Today, the prices are off the wall — not only in Vegas — but all over. You know what bugs me the most? ICED TEA. Three bucks for an iced tea with refills (and just think how little the cost of one tea bag is)! Close behind was a baked potato Bobby ordered at The Sun Coast (with his prime rib). The food is great and prices are usually fair but this time, they served it ala carte since they didn’t realize he wanted “the special.” You cannot fathom in your wildest dreams what one lousy baked potato costs! You know what a bag of them go for in the market, don’t you? Well, this little tater cost $7.00. We are regular customers there and I bitched so much, they offered us free drinks when (and if) we returned. In today’s world everything is preposterous pricewise. We know the manager well so I relented, knowing he does not set the prices. Just wanted him to let the management know why people are not breaking the doors down to eat there.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 25th, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Hi Jane A:

Seeing a movie being made back in the old days was exciting. However, Hollywood and Vegas seemed like a continent away from the East Coast and indeed they were!

I do recall blogging about my honeymoon trip when we ventured from LV to LA on a three legged journey, ending in SF. Stoney arranged for us to go to a movie set and see live films in the making. The one I remember the best was ‘What a Way to Go’ (with Shirley MacClaine and Gene Kelly) where we witnessed the actual filming. When we returned home, Norman boasted how he got to talk to Gene Kelly. Gene said “hello” to Norman and Norman returned the “hello” to Gene. What a conversation.

We also saw Stuart Whitman on the set of ‘The Mark’ and Sgt. Bilko (Phil Silvers) at the cafeteria which was deluged by the stars of the silver screen between scenes. Those were the days! What memories — from exactly fifty years ago.

DarwinJune 26th, 2013 at 2:22 pm


60 years ago is not 1963.

Enjoy your comments, and enjoyed seeing you in Las Vegas.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 26th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Thanks, Darwin:

I can only blame it on seven days at that hell hole for the Regional. After a week of bridge there, one’s mind starts to go.

I am still recuperating. Great seeing you and Kay. It’s been too long.



EllisJune 27th, 2013 at 12:37 am

The Riviera, an anomaly
On the one hand, you can still book the Riviera for peanuts, on the other hand if there was no regional going on there who would want to stay there.
Everything in house is expensive, the maids did not clean 5 nights out of 9.( we went a few days early to celebrate a wedding), there are few options for eating that are mid range, either expensive or cheap.
On the other hand we got 2 free nights because of the bad room service(my wife is good at that stuff) and the bridge facility is tremendous. The parking is good and plentiful .
Who knows what to think. Vegas is always a mixed bag for the regionals and sectionals. However the Flamingo sectional was definitely worse.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 27th, 2013 at 2:22 am

Hi Ellis:

It was good seeing you again — and yes, I agree an anomaly is as good a word as any to describe the Riviera.

Sorry you had the room cleaning problem. Good for Marjorie for balancing the scales. She and I went to the same school.

Yes, the playing space was terrific — although in different locations — but nothing to scoff at. It was a well run tournament and the volunteers were out of sight. The starting times seemed to cause wear and tear on the body and I found them sort of discombobulating and inconvenient for meeting friends for dinner as it seemed everyone was playing at different starting times — but after all — we came to play — not to eat. And, on the plus side … there were so many different events in which to play, everyone should have been happy.

Frankly, the Flamingo did not stand out in my mind one way or another. But, that may be as a result of living here. Every casino seems to look alike to me. My major objection is being raped at the eating facilities — because (with one exception) the service was awful and the cuisine (if you want to call it that) was overpriced.

I recently learned that Jane and Bruce, our co-chairs, are trying to renegotiate the upcoming hotel accommodation rates arranged by the former administrator. Can’t imagine they can get it down low enough from the present price to entice people (like us natives) who stayed there for the week as it was so convenient and affordable (especially with early starting times). Only time will tell.

Bobby and I are still recovering from exhaustion and in two weeks I have to start packing again as we are going to Orlando for the Senior Trials. But since we don’t go to NABCs anymore — it will be nice to see old friends who will be there as well.