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Sam Boyd Stadium named for local gaming pioneer

“I never understood why they built the stadium in a swamp,” said Michael Green, a professor at the College of Southern Nevada. “For a long time the field was on a slant, and UNLV couldn’t seem to score running uphill.”

Sam Boyd Stadium, a once-crooked athletic field, stands as a memorial to a man known for bringing the straight and narrow to a notoriously crooked industry .

When Lefty Rosenthal and his crowd were driven out of the Stardust in the real-life events depicted in the book and film “Casino,” the state Gaming Board wanted to bring in someone to turn around the operation.

“They wanted someone who was clean,” Green said. “Sam Boyd and his son Bill were the perfect people for that.”

Boyd made a habit of being involved in the community and community service despite the fact that many of his contemporaries in the early years of gaming were less than reputable.

“His old partner Al Garbian, who worked with Sam at the Sahara and some other operations, summed it up very well,” Green said. “Garbian said, ‘We knew all of them. We weren’t connected, but we knew all of them.’

“You couldn’t help but know them. It was a small town. Sam Boyd was one of the most respected people in the industry.”

Boyd, who would eventually found Boyd Gaming, was born in Enid, Okla., in 1910. As a young man he worked in off-shore gaming in California before coming to Las Vegas in 1941.

He arrived in town with $80 and worked his way through several positions in the gaming industry, starting as a dealer and ending up as an international brand name in gaming.

“From any account he was the hardest- working man you’d ever meet,” Green said. “He thought a seven-day week was slacking off.”

Boyd used that work ethic to bolster and rescue many properties in town. He wasn’t averse to thinking outside the box. When he owned the struggling California Hotel, he decided to market it to Hawaiians. He had lived in Hawaii between California and Las Vegas and still had connections.

“I don’t think you’ll find anywhere outside of Hawaii with more Hawaiian shirts,” said Green. “It really turned the place around.”

Green was one of the historians tasked with organizing the Las Vegas Review-Journal special project that eventually became the local history book “The First 100.” He considers Sam Boyd one of the book’s most glaring omissions.

“He was the first gaming executive to be the leader of the chamber of commerce,” Green said, “This was back in a time when gaming and local commerce were very different groups.”

Green also cites Boyd’s actions at the Union Plaza in the early 1970s as making him noteworthy.

“He broke a discrimination policy by hiring woman dealers,” Green said. “Back then, this just wasn’t done. There had even been an ordinance against it at one time. I don’t think he was a feminist crusader, I think he just thought it was a good way to bring in business. The outcome is more important than the motivation.”

Sam Boyd Stadium was built in 1971 and was originally called Las Vegas Stadium. In 1978 it was renamed the Las Vegas Silver Bowl and in 1984 the name was changed to the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl.

In 1994, a little more than a year after Boyd’s death on Jan. 15, 1993, at age 82, it was given its current name, Sam Boyd Stadium.

Boyd Lane in North Las Vegas also is named for Sam Boyd.

Contact Sunrise and Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 380-4532.

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