Boyd Gaming has a reputation for independence, reliability and a squeaky-clean management philosophy that helped the company parlay good business practices into a huge gaming empire. It all started with the work ethic of Sam Boyd, born April 23, 1910, in Enid, Oklahoma.
Just as other early Las Vegas dealers and managers did, Sam began his career in the gaming industry aboard Tony Cornero’s floating casinos off the California coast in the 1920s. The boats, anchored beyond the three-mile limit, offered roulette, blackjack, craps and Boyd’s favorite, bingo.
When Cornero went to prison for rum running (not illegal gaming), Boyd gave bingo games in Hawaii a run, but returned to Long Beach, California to work with Cornero aboard the S.S. REX. The ship could accommodate up to 3,000 gamblers, brought to the games via a fleet of fast-moving jet boats.
The floating casinos were demonized and outlawed by California Attorney General, Earl Warren, but Cornero insisted he was in international waters and refused to stop accepting patrons.
On August 1, 1939, police on board U.S. Coast Guard vessels attempted to board the S.S. REX. Instead of a simple arrest of Cornero, the officers got hit by the ship’s fire hoses before they could even board. Cornero insisted it was a case of “piracy on the high seas.” The standoff lasted three days before Cornero surrendered. The ship never reopened.
Sam Boyd took a skiff to the Santa Monica docks and returned home. He and his family later took a trip to Hawaii where Sam ran a series of bingo operations.
Returning to the mainland, Boyd moved his family to Las Vegas with just $80 in his pocket.
Fittingly, he arrived during Labor Day weekend in 1941. His first job was as a roulette dealer at the Jackpot Club in downtown Las Vegas. It was a penny game, and it wasn’t his favorite.
Still, he saved his pay as best he could and moved his family to Reno, Nevada. He also worked several summers at the small casinos of Lake Tahoe. Over the next ten years, Boyd rose from dealer to pit boss. When he was promoted to shift manager, he got better wages and a share of the casinos’ profits.
Sam Boyd Returns to Las Vegas
Boyd watched Las Vegas boom through the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, and once again returned to the desert city in 1952 with his wife, Mary. He found a nice home and invested his $10,000 bankroll in the Sahara Hotel, where he worked for several years.
When the opportunity presented itself, Boyd bought a small piece of other casinos, including the Mint, where he acted as General Manager. His son, Bill, received his law degree from the University of Utah and practiced in Las Vegas for 15 years.
During that time, he became a point, or shareholder, in the same properties his father held an interest in when the two teamed up to acquire the Wheel Casino in Henderson, Nevada. They renamed it, and Bill, who was then a practicing attorney, acquired his first stake in the Eldorado by doing its legal work. Sam would go on to manage the Eldorado full-time after leaving the Mint in 1968.
The Boyd’s had a penchant for the casinos in downtown Vegas, and as the Boyd Group, with 75 small investors, opened the $10 million California Hotel. It had 325 hotel rooms and got off to a slow start.
Remembering his days in Hawaii, Sam focused on the Hawaiian market and offered special vacation packages that started with $9.90 tickets from Honolulu.
What a deal!
The cheap airfare was a hit, and even today, more than half of the visitors to Las Vegas from Hawaii stay at a Boyd property. Go figure. The company likes to take credit for originating local’s casinos, starting with the opening of Sam’s Town Casino on Boulder Highway in 1979.
Hard Work and Persistence Pays Off
The Boyd’s were a great example of hard work and persistence paying off. Even more so, it was a well-run, transparent operation. When the Nevada Gaming Commission refused to continue licensing two major properties (the Stardust and Fremont) due to allegations of illegal skimming, the Boyd’s were asked to run the properties on an interim basis.
The new management provided a shocking revelation. The properties immediately showed huge profits, proving the skimming operation had been both successful and devastating. The FBI estimated that the skim at the Stardust alone had been almost $5 million per year. Eventually, Boyd Gaming acquired both properties.
Officially started in 1975, the Boyd Group became Boyd Gaming in 1990 and had an IPO in 1993. Today, the company is traded on the New York Stock Exchange as BYD.
Although Sam Boyd passed away January 15, 1993,
he saw his company and family prosper in Las Vegas.
The University of Nevada-Las Vegas even named its football stadium the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl, in remembrance of the friendly, driven man, who hired thousands of workers in his clubs, helped train them and enjoyed their success.
Bill Boyd followed his father as a leader in the gaming industry and a great supporter of the Las Vegas community. In 1998, he saw his many years of effort come to fruition as a law school at UNLV opened. It is now the William S. Boyd School of Law.
Boyd Gaming Expansion
After the successful IPO, Boyd Gaming acquired the Eldorado and Jokers Wild casinos in Henderson. Shortly afterward, the company purchased Main Street Station. In 1994, the company expanded beyond Nevada by opening Sam’s Town in Tunica, Mississippi.
Funds from the IPO supplied Boyd Gaming with a source of capital for expansion, and the company embarked on a period of aggressive growth. The company acquired the Eldorado and Jokers Wild (which had previously been owned directly by the Boyd family) in 1993; later that year, Boyd Gaming acquired Main Street Station Hotel and Casino and Brewery.
The company’s first expansion outside of Nevada came in 1994 when Boyd Gaming opened Sam’s Town in Tunica, Miss. A host of new casinos followed, resulting in a new project scheduled to be built on the site of the old Stardust Casino, but imploded in 2007. When economic conditions worsened, the property was sold for $350 million.
After a period of inactivity, Boyd Gaming purchased the IP Casino Resort in Biloxi, Mississippi in 2011 for $278 million, and then acquired Peninsula Gaming’s five casinos in the Midwest for $1.45 billion. Yeah, they were getting gutsy, but no worries. They sold their share of the Borgata in Atlantic City to MGM Grand for $900 million.
Today, Boyd Gaming owns and operates 24 gaming properties in seven states. Last year, the company had 20,000 employees and $2 billion in revenues. Not bad for a company whose founder arrived in Las Vegas with $80 in his pocket.