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Rod Smith
 

Sam's Town Celebrates 25th Anniversary

2 April 2004

LAS VEGAS --The locals market in Las Vegas is so hot today, it's sometimes hard to remember the pioneers who got that segment of the gaming industry started.

When it opened a quarter of a century ago, Sam's Town was a pioneer out on what was then the dusty edge of Las Vegas but on the cutting edge of the gaming industry.

"The idea of a locals casino off-Strip unassociated with downtown Las Vegas or Henderson was a gargantuan leap at the time," University of Nevada, Las Vegas History Department Chairman Hal Rothman said. "Others said it was an idea whose time had not come, but they were all proved wrong."

Boyd Gaming Corp. Chairman Bill Boyd said the Boulder Strip landmark was built on 13 acres of desert out in the middle of nowhere, the intersection of Boulder Highway and Nellis Boulevard, when it opened and his friends asked if he'd lost his marbles.

But Boyd said Sam's Town was well received by residents who lived in the area from its opening day, very much unlike the opening of some locals casinos today which often draw protests and demonstrations.

With its hotel complex on top of the casino and other attractions, Boyd said Sam's Town has also always succeeded in drawing drive-in visitors, especially from California, many of whom return year after year.

One woman who asked to identified only by her first name, Meredith, is a 75-year-old frequent visitor to Las Vegas who said sometimes she stays at Sam's Town and sometimes she doesn't, but she never misses it on a visit.

"It's like family. It's been here since I've been coming to Vegas, and it's always felt like home, even though it's nothing like home," she said. "It's just comfortable. It's grown on me and makes me feel good."

Lourdes Deyro, a casino floor supervisor and 25-year veteran at Sam's Town, said from the start the hotel-casino was like a home away from home.

"It hasn't changed all that much over the years. It just got a little bit bigger," she said. "In the casino, we try to still make it home. We try to welcome everybody who comes in and make them feel at home."

While the spirit has stayed the same, the technology and amenities have changed with the times.

Rothman said Sam's Town and its owner, Boyd Gaming Corp., have made innovation their creed in the intervening 25 years, and helped define the locals gaming market.

"The locals market, despite the success of Station Casinos and other groups, has been and is defined by Sam's Town. It's an icon. And it stands very much alone in that respect. When people think of the locals market, that's what they think about," Rothman said.

Sam's Town, the dream of the father-and-son team of Sam and Bill Boyd that founded Boyd Gaming, opened at a time when hotels just were not being built, especially out in the desert, he said.

"Their innovation, then and now, is understanding the changing market. (Sam's Town is not) for a downscale gamblers market, but a premier place featuring country music, NASCAR culture and down-home friendliness. They're pioneered in a lot of ways, and that is an indication of the vision of the owners, top managers and staff," Rothman said.

Sam Boyd, a bingo operator in California and Hawaii, came to Las Vegas in 1941 and worked his way from dealer to investor in Nevada casinos, eventually purchasing shares in the Sahara and the Mint.

He invested in the Plaza downtown. He built the California Hotel downtown and the Eldorado in Henderson. But Sam and his son, Bill, who spent 15 years as a Las Vegas attorney, wanted a second property to bear their family name, revolutionize the industry and create a third major gaming area on the Boulder Strip.

The result was Sam's Town, which today has more than 3,000 slot and video games, more than 70 table games, a race and sports book with 60 big screen televisions and daily bingo in an 111,641-square-foot casino.

Its hotel has 650 rooms and suites, each decorated in a 19th century, Southwestern theme, 1,000 valet parking spaces, and three self-park garages with more than 2,500 parking spaces.

The hotel-casino features Sam's Town Live, a 1,100-seat theater, Century 18 Sam's Town movie multiplex, Roxy's Lounge, a 56-lane bowling alley and an amusement arcade.

Boyd Gaming completed an $86 million, 200,000-square-foot expansion and casino remodeling in 2000.