Question of the Day June 25, 2013
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Q:You asked, "[Jackie Gaughan] was also a friend of Bill Boyd and we'd be interested in hearing about him, too. How about some background on the Boyds?" Yesterday, we followed the Boyds through their grind-joint beginnings to their cornering of the Hawaiian market. In today’s installment, Boyd Gaming takes two fateful steps.
A:In 1979, four years after building the California, the Boyds took what was considered a huge risk at the time, embarking on the construction of a massive locals casino on then-remote Boulder Highway. According to conventional wisdom, they might as well have been building it on the far side of the Moon. "People thought they were crazy," Station Casinos co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta told the Las Vegas Sun.
"[Friends] said,’'Are you out of your mind? You’re going to lose everything,’" Bill Boyd confirmed. "’There's no way that place can be successful.’" But successful it was – and still is. Today, Sam’s Town – as it was eventually called – is but one of several large casinos that form what became known as the Boulder Strip. A planned "Sam’s Town Reno," however, was never realized – this was in 1996 and Reno’s fortunes would take a downward turn soon afterward.
An even more significant event in the company’s history and the Boyd family’s life took place in 1983. Long after Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal got run out of the Stardust, skimming continued to be a problem at the prominent Strip casino. Owners Herb Tobman and Al Sachs ponied up a $3 million fine and surrendered their gaming licenses. The Nevada Gaming Control Board took the unusual step of asking Boyd Gaming to assume direction of the property, due to Sam and Bill’s upstanding reputations. "When we took over, the dealers weren't even allowed to talk to customers. We’re more of a family-type company," the younger Boyd later recalled.
Now that revenue was no longer being siphoned off to the Mob, the Stardust gave Boyd and immensely profitable presence on the Strip, so much so that the company was able to buy the Stardust and the Fremont Hotel in 1985 for a then-whopping $165 million. "All I ever thought about was making the payroll. If we weren't successful at the Stardust," the younger Boyd told the late Jeff Simpson, "I’d be back to practicing law." When the Stardust closed in 2007, that payroll included over 100 employees who had been with the casino throughout the entire Boyd tenure.
Both altruism and a wary attitude toward unsavory entanglements led Sam Boyd to found the United Way of Southern Nevada back in 1957, years before he became a major force in the casino industry. As Bill Boyd recently explained to Diamond Cake magazine, as a casino executive, Sam was on the receiving end of daily charitable solicitations but had no way of knowing which ones were legit. Solution? Start a local United Way branch. It was the beginning of a philanthropic tradition that would make the Boyd family beloved in Las Vegas. "If you are successful," Bill Boyd told a reporter, "you have an obligation to give back to the very community that made you successful."
Although he lived to the ripe old age of 82, Sam Boyd didn’t last quite long enough to enjoy his company’s greatest triumphs. He died in January 1993, eulogized as "a man known for bringing the straight and narrow to a notoriously crooked industry." At least he was able to enjoy induction into the American Gaming Association Hall of Fame in 1991. Bill Boyd would join him in the AGA Hall of Fame two years later. (Unfortunately, Elaine S. Kartzman’s "informal biography," Sam Boyd: Nevadan, is out of print.) The following July, Boyd Gaming was listed on the New York Stock Exchange (ticker symbol: BYD).
Tomorrow, the conclusion: Boyd Gaming becomes a publicly held company, encountering both success and failure in the world of multi-billion-dollar deals.