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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson
 

Jeff Simpson shares some final Stardust thoughts with Bill Boyd

1 November 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Boyd Gaming Corp. Chairman Bill Boyd is a low-key kind of guy.

When he discusses memories from his two decades-plus as owner of the Stardust, he doesn't shed crocodile tears. But there's no mistaking his appreciation of the property that took him into the casino industry's big leagues - most notably his affection for Stardust employees, folks he considers family.

And when he describes his plans for the $4 billion Echelon Place development he'll begin building next spring on the Stardust site, he doesn't hype the project. But his quiet confidence shines through.

I met with Boyd on Friday in his understated offices behind the Stardust on Industrial Road.

He said he had never considered the idea of owning a Strip hotel before the state Gaming Control Board asked him to take over the Stardust following a casino-skimming scandal.

He and his father, Sam Boyd, operated the California downtown, the Eldorado in Henderson and Sam's Town on Boulder Highway.

"All I ever thought about was making the payroll," Boyd said with an easy laugh. "If we weren't successful at the Stardust, I'd be back to practicing law."

Boyd took over operation of the Stardust in December 1983, and paid about $165 million for it and downtown's Fremont in 1985.

It wasn't long before Boyd began putting his own mark on the property, investing $50 million in a 1988 expansion and renovation and $135 million for a 1,166-room hotel tower, a conference center, pool and new lobby that opened in 1991.

When I asked him if he had thought at the time that he might be imploding the tower 15 years later, Boyd chuckled.

"We might have had second thoughts about building it," he admitted.

But Boyd never considered selling it.

"It's a joke in my company that Bill Boyd never sells things, only buys things," he said, before an aside that explained his recent deal to swap the Barbary Coast to Harrah's Entertainment for a 24-acre site just north of the Stardust. "I will trade things."

The investments kept the Stardust profitable while a decade of megaresort development dramatically changed the Strip landscape. Wall Street criticized Boyd for failing to get in on the Strip building boom.

When an offer to jointly develop a casino with Steve Wynn in Atlantic City came along, Boyd decided to pursue the deal and delay redeveloping his Stardust site.

With 20-20 hindsight, it's clear Boyd's decision to wait was a masterstroke.

If he had built in the 1990s, he probably would have created something like the midmarket Paris, Monte Carlo, New York-New York or Aladdin properties. Instead, by using available resources to build the Borgata in Atlantic City (in partnership with Wynn's Mirage Resorts successor MGM Mirage), a riverboat empire in the central United States and to buy Las Vegas locals powerhouse Coast Casinos, Boyd is in a much stronger position today.

He's proved the company's ability to build a market-leading luxury resort with Borgata, and still has the Stardust site to build a luxury development and tap the explosive upscale trend that is driving the Las Vegas resort business.

With five luxury hotel towers, upscale retail, 28 bars and restaurants, a 700,000-square-foot convention center and 300,000 square feet of high-end retail, Echelon Place will be a complete resort development, Boyd said.

"I don't think anyone with much knowledge about the business doubts we have the expertise to develop Echelon," he said.

Boyd admitted that he'll be a little melancholy about the closure of his favorite Stardust restaurant, his namesake gourmet room, William B's, where he dines almost every week.

"Because it has my name on it, I'm especially proud of it," he said.

But the man whose company owns a slew of other Las Vegas casinos has the power to make things right. He hopes to open another William B's at one of those properties.

Jeff Simpson shares some final Stardust thoughts with Bill Boyd is republished from CasinoVendors.com.