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Hawaii's Vegas

Revealing the connection between Islanders and the California Hotel and Casino


Sam Boyd in front of the California Hotel and Casino, 1975.

Photo: courtesy Boyd Gaming


According to Las Vegas standards, people from Hawaii are the best gamblers in the world. It’s true. Be proud. According to the book California Hotel and Casino: Hawaii’s Home Away from Home, when the California Hotel and Casino first started in the late 1970s, typical Las Vegas tourists spent $300 or less on gambling during a 2 ½-day stay. But not us. Oh, no. On average, we spent $350 gambling each day for four days. Sam Boyd, creator of the California Hotel and Casino, knew of our passion, knew our culture, knew the gambling business, and voila!—a match made at the slot machine (all sevens).

The story is, of course, more complex than this, but on Nov. 13 you can visit the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii to see the exhibit and buy the book (California Hotel and Casino: Hawaii’s Home Away from Home) that will explain it all.

The exhibit, featuring information, artifacts, more than 60 photographs and a video, focuses not only on Hawaii residents and the California Hotel and Casino, but on the larger picture of Hawaii’s fascination with gambling. “There’s always been this strong gaming, gambling subculture here,” notes Brian Niiya, JCCH Resource Center director and curator of the exhibit.

Boyd put all his chips in a small, distant market. Us. And he hit the jackpot.

Boyd learned this during the 1930s when he lived in Hawaii, working in the gambling business (when it was legal) for Hisakichi Hisanaga. “Not only did he learn from a great teacher in terms of gambling,” says Dr. Dennis M. Ogawa, co-author of California Hotel and Casino, “He also learned about Hawaii. That changed Sam Boyd forever—the aloha.”

In California Hotel and Casino, authors Ogawa (professor of American Studies at the University of Hawaii) and John M. Blink (key executive at the California) chronicle Boyd’s life, his creation of the California and the relationship he built with Hawaii. “He was a genius,” notes Ogawa. “One way to read the book, from a business standpoint,” says Niiya, is “as a business model that goes against conventional wisdom.” Boyd put all his chips in a small, distant market. Us. And he hit the jackpot.

Oahu: Nov. 13, 2008 through Jan. 23, 2009, JCCH.

Neighbor Islands: Schedules and venues will be available in 2009 on the JCCH Web site and in the newsletter.

$5 non-Hawaii residents, $3 kamaaina, free for JCCH members.

The Book may be purchased at the JCCH gift shop or ordered via fax/mail (an order form is available here on the JCCH Web site).



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