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Caitlin McGarry

Eldorado Casino in Henderson still family business

30 June 2012

On a quiet Friday morning in downtown Henderson, residents stream into the Eldorado Casino on Water Street for breakfast at The Cafe.

Sharron Brush is the server on duty, while Walter Wagner scrambles eggs and flips pancakes in the kitchen.

Brush has worked at the Eldorado for 36 years, Wagner for 26.

They talk about watching customers grow from scarfing down Mickey Mouse pancakes to ordering cartoon-shaped breakfast items for their own children. They know their customers by order as well as name. The two possess an ease that comes from years of working The Cafe's morning shift together.

The Eldorado is a neighborhood spot where Henderson residents gather to eat, drink, gamble and socialize. It's been that way for decades - 50 years, to be exact. The casino celebrates its golden anniversary Sunday with a public cake-and-champagne celebration from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

"The Eldorado is very important to me because it was my first investment in the gaming business," said Bill Boyd, who in 1962 opened the Eldorado with father Sam and a handful of other investors. "It was my dad and I's first partnership in the gaming business. Without it, we probably wouldn't have gone on and invested in the Union Plaza or our present company, Boyd Gaming."

The Boyds and their partners acquired the Eldorado when it was a vacant casino called The Wheel. Paul Perry wanted to purchase the casino, and Bill Boyd, an attorney, represented him in the transaction. Perry didn't have enough cash on hand to remodel the place, so he offered Boyd a stake in the property in exchange for legal representation.

Boyd brought his father, aunt and an attorney down the hall in on the deal. The casino reopened as the Eldorado on July 1, 1962.

The Boyds in 1966 bought out the other investors and went on to found what is now Boyd Gaming, a publicly traded company with 17 casinos across the country. The Eldorado is part of Boyd Gaming's portfolio.

Sam Boyd was an experienced casino operator, but Bill Boyd would practice law during the day and spend his nights learning the business at the Eldorado.

Many of Boyd Gaming's executives also learned the ins and outs of gaming by first working at the Eldorado.

"It's served as a training ground over the years. We sent (executives) out there to train because, even though it's a small place, you have to make all the decisions yourself and you're very hands-on," Boyd said.

Boyd, who will be on hand at the Sunday celebration, has invited back for the 50th anniversary party many of those who got their start at the Eldorado.

The property's current director of operations, Guido Metzger, assumed the role last fall after more than 25 years with the company. He is focusing on improving the Eldorado with small changes like recarpeting the casino floor and adding new televisions.

"We have such a local, loyal clientele here that, besides knowing them by name, (we know) where they're going to sit and who they're going to meet," Metzger said.

The small casino feels like home to its customers and its employees, many of whom, like Brush and Wagner, have kept the place humming along for years.

"When I started here, I was only going to work here for awhile," Brush said.

Wagner put on his Eldorado uniform right out of high school.

Decades later, the pair is still serving up breakfast at The Cafe.

And 50 years after opening, the Eldorado is still Henderson's neighborhood casino, and the foundation of one of the country's largest gaming companies.