I’ve never been there – and not sure I ever will – but many from Hawaiʻi have.
In fact, it’s generally known as the Ninth Island (joining Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui and Hawaiʻi.)
The place is known for gambling.
In 1855, Native Americans Paiute Indians played a roulette-like game in the sand, using bones and colored sticks.
The town of Las Vegas was born with a land auction held on May 15 and 16, 1905. At the time, no one involved could have predicted the explosive growth of the next hundred years. (unlv-edu)
Fast forward and today it’s a popular ‘second home’ to many from Hawaiʻi.
For many, the trip begins with arrangements through Vacations Hawaiʻi; that leads to charter flight scheduling; local style casino; moderate hotel accommodations (including familiar food;) and ends with favored omiyage.
This successful formula has more ties to Hawaiʻi – one of the popular packages is through Boyd Gaming at the California Hotel and Casino (The Cal,) whose founder, Sam Boyd, helped run early gaming in Hilo and Honolulu.
When he was in his 20s (1935-1940,) Boyd was in Hawaiʻi working at Hisakichi Hisanaga’s Palace Amusement, organizing Bingo games there.
The Boyd Gaming story dates back to 1941, when Sam Boyd arrived in Las Vegas with his family and just $80 in his pocket. He worked up through the ranks of the Las Vegas gaming industry, moving from dealer to pit boss to shift boss.
It wasn’t long before Boyd had saved up enough money to buy a small interest in the world-renowned Sahara Hotel.
He then moved on to become general manager and partner at The Mint in downtown Las Vegas, where he introduced a number of successful marketing, gaming and entertainment innovations.
After the Mint was sold in 1968, Sam Boyd started managing the Eldorado Casino in downtown Henderson. He had acquired it with his son, Bill Boyd, in 1962. Bill, a practicing attorney, earned his first interest in the Eldorado by doing all of its legal work.
The birth of Boyd Gaming came on January 1, 1975, when Sam and Bill Boyd founded the company to develop and operate the California Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas. At this time, Bill left the legal profession, after practicing for 15 years, and began working full-time at the California.
The California was intended to attract people from the largest state where gambling was illegal, where they could drive by car or bus to the desert – that’s why it was called the California.
The problem was that the California was not on the main strip. It was downtown but a block-and-a-half away from the Fremont Strip. California travel agents figured out it was a second-rate hotel in a bad location, so the hotel struggled.
Seeking a niche for their new property, the Boyds decided to market the property to the underserved tourists from Hawaiʻi – and one of downtown’s greatest success stories was born.
Boyd learned this during the 1930s when he lived in Hawaiʻi, working in the gambling business (when it was legal) for Hisanaga. “Not only did he learn from a great teacher in terms of gambling,” says Dr. Dennis M. Ogawa, co-author of California Hotel and Casino, “He also learned about Hawaiʻi. That changed Sam Boyd forever – the aloha.” (Honolulu Magazine)
Years before Las Vegas exploded into a desert fantasy, the hotel welcomed Hawaiʻi folks by the charter planeload, with waiters in aloha shirts serving up local food. The Cal’s beef jerky was a favored omiyage; the homemade saimin was the real deal. In Waikiki, thousands attended Boyd’s “Mahalo Parties” at the Queen Kapiʻolani Hotel and Sheraton Waikiki. (Honolulu Advertiser)
According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, in 2010, there were approximately 7,000 airline seats flying from Hawaiʻi to McCarran International Airport every week, bringing 260,000 visitors from Honolulu to the desert. (Las Vegas Sun)
Not accounting for repeat visits – of which there were likely many – and travelers continuing elsewhere, about 20 percent of all Hawaiians visited Las Vegas in one year. And some of them stayed. (Las Vegas Sun)
According to Las Vegas standards, people from Hawaiʻi are the best gamblers in the world. According to the book California Hotel and Casino: Hawaiʻi’s Home Away from Home, when the Cal first started in the late 1970s, typical Las Vegas tourists spent $300 or less on gambling during a 2 ½-day stay. Not those from Hawaiʻi. On average, folks from Hawaiʻi spent $350 gambling each day for four days. (Honolulu Magazine)
Boyd built or helped build eight big hotels and casinos in Southern Nevada. He was also a benefactor to many local organizations, including the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, which named its football stadium the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl.
Sam Boyd passed away in 1993, but the company he founded continued to grow and thrive under Bill’s leadership. Through a series of new developments and strategic acquisitions Boyd Gaming grew into a nationwide company, operating 22 casino entertainment properties in Nevada, New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida (… and Vacations Hawaiʻi.)