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Rod Smith

Stardust memories: Boyd helped end era of mob control of Las Vegas casinos

30 October 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- When the Stardust closes for good this week, Boyd Gaming Corp. Chairman Bill Boyd will mark the end of another era in Las Vegas.

Boyd's career has spanned the transition of Las Vegas casinos from mob-run operations to corporate-owned companies, said David Schwartz, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' Center for Gaming Research.

"(Before) he and his father (Sam) built the California in 1975, the Boyd Group was a relatively small group of 75 investors," he said.

"It's impossible that that group could have expanded nationally as Boyd Gaming (had it not) incorporated in 1988 and offered its stock on the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) in 1993," Schwartz said.

By doing so, Boyd positioned his company as a major player in the next generation of gaming in Las Vegas and the United States, Schwartz said.

But Boyd often cites establishing the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as his proudest accomplishment. He personally has contributed $30 million to set up the fledgling law school, starting in 1997.

From the beginning, Boyd was a complete departure from the stereotypical mob bosses who were running casinos in Las Vegas when he was growing up here.

When asked how he got started in the casino business, Boyd, whose net worth is estimated at $1.4 billion, detours back to his first job of hawking Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal newspapers around downtown street corners and casinos in the early 1940s after he and his family migrated to Las Vegas.

After the newspapers were dropped off, the delivery boys would grab about 20 each, and a supervisor would fire a track starter's pistol to set off mad dashes to sell them.

Young Boyd regularly ran his papers to the nearby Jackpot casino, where his father, Sam, was a dealer.

The younger Boyd had to leave Las Vegas to attend college. He graduated first from the University of Nevada, Reno and then the University of Utah School of Law, with a break for service in the Army.

Years later, he helped set up the Boyd law school to give local students a chance to stay here and serve their community.

Boyd practiced law in Las Vegas for more than 15 years and was a partner with his father and others in the Union Plaza Hotel & Casino and the Eldorado Casino.

In 1973, the pair founded Boyd Gaming Corp., marking the end of the son's career as a lawyer.

Bill Boyd was appointed supervisor of the Stardust by the state of Nevada after skimming scandals in 1984. He took the family business public nine years later.

Since then, he has built the company into the world's third-largest gaming empire, with $5 billion in assets and operations in Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana, Illinois, Indiana and New Jersey.

Although the Stardust was once Boyd Gaming's flagship, the resort never has been a major Strip "player except for its leading role in sports betting, and the fact it was the last mobbed-up place to fall to honest corporate-type owners," said University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Bill Thompson, who specializes in gaming studies.

"Bill Boyd's claim to fame at the Stardust was that he got it firmly out of mob influence and helped end an era," Thompson said.