Sam’s Town celebrates 40 years as community gathering place

Brandon Flowers and The Killers perform Friday at Sam‘s Town Live! to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their sophomore album, “Sam‘s Town.” (Rob Loud)Brandon Flowers and The Killers perform Friday at Sam‘s Town Live! to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their sophomore album, “Sam‘s Town.” (Rob Loud)William Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, at his Las Vegas offices Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, at his Las Vegas offices Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, at his Las Vegas offices Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, at his Las Vegas offices Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, at his Las Vegas offices Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, at his Las Vegas offices Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, at his Las Vegas offices Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Cumberledge, 80, of Las Vegas, talks to a reporter during an interview at Sam‘s Town Monday, March 25, 2019. Cumberledge, who has been a loyal customer for nearly 16 years, said she plays bingo at the casino nearly every day, and is usually first in line when the open the doors in the morning. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Avery, 72, and his wife Barbara Avery, 70, of Las Vegas, talk to a reporter during an interview at Sam‘s Town Monday, March 25, 2019. The Averys have been loyal customers for 30 years. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Bucci, 89, of Las Vegas, wipes a tear while talking to a reporter during an interview at Sam‘s Town Monday, March 25, 2019. Bucci, who had her husband‘s memorial service at Sam‘s Town, said the employees care for their customers. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Bucci, 89, of Las Vegas, talks to a reporter during an interview at Sam‘s Town Monday, March 25, 2019. Bucci, who had her husband‘s memorial service at Sam‘s Town, said the employees care for their customers. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) employees, cocktail server Ginger Glass-Trotter, 25 years, left, and PBX Manager Linda Stone, 39 years, talk to a reporter during an interview at Sam‘s Town Monday, March 25, 2019. Both said employees and customers are like family. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Cumberledge, 80, of Las Vegas, at Sam‘s Town Monday, March 25, 2019. Cumberledge, who has been a loyal customer for nearly 16 years, regularly plays the same machines. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Cumberledge, 80, of Las Vegas, left, gets her regular tea at her regular machine from her regular server, Ginger Glass-Trotter, at Sam‘s Town Monday, March 25, 2019. Cumberledge, who has been a loyal customer for nearly 16 years, said she plays the same machines. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Cumberledge, 80, of Las Vegas, left, gets her regular tea at her regular machine from her regular server, Ginger Glass-Trotter, at Sam‘s Town Monday, March 25, 2019. Cumberledge, who has been a loyal customer for nearly 16 years, said she plays the same machines. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Hansen of Las Vegas gets a drink from server, Ginger Glass-Trotter at Sam‘s Town Monday, March 25, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) -five year cocktail server Ginger Glass-Trotter smiles at a customer at Sam‘s Town Monday, March 25, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Manager Linda Stone, who has worked at Sam‘s Town 39 years, at her office Monday, March 25, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Manager Linda Stone, who has worked at Sam‘s Town 39 years, at her office Monday, March 25, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) play in the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Henrichsen, of Henderson, who has been a customer for 29 years, gets a bingo during the first session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) and Maureen Lemanski, of Toms River, New Jersey, play in the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. The couple, who have been coming to Sam‘s Town for at least 35 years, said, "It‘s our home away from home." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) wall dedicated to Boyd Gaming founder Sam Boyd at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) dedicated to Boyd Gaming founder Sam Boyd at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) photo of Boyd Gaming founder Sam Boyd, right, receiving a ceremonial pistol with Sheriff Ralph Lamb and Capt. Ray Gubsur Jr. on display at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Avery‘s photo on Sam‘s Town marquee when the casino hosted his retirement party. Avery, 72, and his wife Barbara, have been loyal customers for 30 years. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Avery, 70, of Las Vegas, waits for the doors to the bingo room to open at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Avery and her husband, Jon, 72, have been loyal customers for 30 years. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) wait for the doors to the bingo room to open at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) customers Debbie Vassallo, of Henderson, 30 years, left, and Maryanne Cumberledge, nearly 16 years, prepare for the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) customers Jon Avery, 30 years, and Maryanne Cumberledge, nearly 16 years, joke employee Tom Willey about two missing donuts before the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) line up to buy-in for the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) get their buy-ins for the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) customers Maryanne Cumberledge, of Las Vegas, nearly 16 years, and Debbie Vassallo, of Henderson, 30 years, prepare for the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) customers Maryanne Cumberledge, of Las Vegas, nearly 16 years, and Debbie Vassallo, of Henderson, 30 years, prepare for the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) and Terri Brewster, of Green Vally, Arizona, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary of their Las Vegas marriage, prepare for the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Avery, 72, and his wife Barbara Avery, 70, of Las Vegas, play in the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. The Averys have been loyal customers for 30 years. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) -three year employee Audrey McKenzie calls the first bingo session of the day at Sam‘s Town Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) press party for Miss Rodeo America at Sam‘s Town in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 9, 1986. Miss Rodeo Alaska is pictured on the left with Miss Rodeo Wyoming on the right.Credit:Cliff Stanley/Las Vegas News BureauChristmas tree lighting with Sam Boyd and Mr. Newman at Sam‘s Town on November 24, 1987. Credit: John Litty/Las Vegas News Bureau12/04/1978 Sam Boyd at the construction site of Sam‘s Town.Credit: Las Vegas News BureauSams Town marquee July 3, 1979 Credit: Las Vegas News Bureau8/21/1980 Sam‘s Town Roy Rogers, Dale Evans with Sam Boyd Credit: Las Vegas News BureauExterior of Sam‘s Town 02/11/1982 Credit: Las Vegas News Bureau1/28/1993, Sam‘s Town RV Park Credit: Las Vegas News Bureau6/30/94: Opening of 6th Expansion at Sam‘s Town. Credit: Darrin Bush/Las Vegas News Bureau6/30/94: Bill Boyd at the opening of 6th Expansion at Sam‘s Town.Credit: Darrin Bush/Las Vegas News BureauSam‘s Town 8/1/1998 Credit: Las Vegas News BureauBoyd Gaming Groundbreaking of Sam‘s Town first expansion in 1981. Manny Cortez, County Commissioner, Sam Boyd, Bill Boyd, Las Vegas Councilman Ron Lurie, and US Representative James Sartini.Exterior of Sam‘s Town 02/11/1982 Credit: Las Vegas News BureauThe Killers album cover8/21/1980 Sam‘s Town Roy Rogers, Dale Evans with Sam Boyd Credit: Las Vegas News Bureau

For Jon Avery, Sam’s Town was the setting for a memorable retirement party. For Ginger Glass-Trotter, it’s the place where she sang professionally and then, as a cocktail server, met customers whom she now considers friends. For Audrey Bucci, it was where a moving memorial service for her husband was held.

Locals-oriented casinos around Las Vegas can be more than just places to gamble — for many, in fact, they become like community centers, neighborhood bars, diners or even secular worship spaces. Over the past four decades, Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall has been all of those and more.

Sam’s Town celebrates its 40th anniversary Monday, with a cake-and-champagne party at 2 p.m. And although the area around it has developed enough over the years to earn the unofficial moniker “Boulder Strip,” its roots lie in what four decades ago was open desert.

The idea

Bill Boyd, son of gaming icon Sam Boyd and executive chairman of Boyd Gaming Corp., notes that in 1979, the Boyd family had ownership in the California Hotel in Las Vegas and the Eldorado in Henderson. Earlier, while driving along Boulder Highway one night, Bill Boyd passed property that he and partners owned.

“I called my partner who was in the real estate business and said, ‘I’m passing our property, our five acres out here, and we only have one payment left on that and we’re going to own it. Why don’t we do something to develop it? Build a hotel or something?’

“He said, ‘That’s a great idea. I just got a listing this morning on 13 acres right on the corner of Nellis Boulevard and Boulder Highway. It’s $635,000.’ “

When Boyd pitched the idea to his father, Sam liked it, too.

“We were sure that about 90 percent of people who lived on the East side … went downtown for their entertainment, and we said, ‘Why would they go downtown if we put a nice place closer to them so they didn’t have to drive as far?’ ”

Not everyone agreed.

“It appeared in the paper we were building at that address, and my dad and I started to get calls from friends and contemporaries saying, ‘You guys are so out of it … What are you doing, going out to the middle of nowhere where you’re going to go broke?’ ”

The opening

Boyd says Sam’s Town was packed on opening day — April 1, 1979.

Sam’s Town wasn’t the first locals casino, but “it was, really, one of the first full-scale, what we called local properties” and helped to start a trend.

The goal was to offer entertainment amenities that would make Sam’s Town more than just a gambling hall but also a destination casino.

“We had a nice coffee shop. We had an upscale restaurant called Diamond Lil’s. We had a nice lounge, Roxy’s Lounge. On the second floor we had a Western dance hall,” Boyd says. “Within a year, we built a 56-lane bowling center downstairs, and it wasn’t long after that we started bingo.”

In 1994, indoor park Mystic Falls opened. Many customers say, ‘I love bring- ing kids to see the show,’ ” Boyd says. “So we opened and we never looked back. We’ve expanded it eight times”

A gathering place

Boyd is gratified that Sam’s Town has become a gathering place for local residents. “We have a tremendous number of retired people who live here now and come to Sam’s Town … six days a week.”

Jon and Barbara Avery started coming almost daily after moving here in 1979.

“We get up in the morning, come to bingo, have lunch with our favorite waitress,” Barbara Avery says. Then, it’s more bingo or “sometimes we go home for a couple of hours, then we come back again.”

When Jon retired from his airline job, Barb, a retired teacher, arranged a party at the casino. “Sam’s Town set it up for me,” she says, and “an executive from the office called a week before and said, ‘Do you have a picture of him?’ “

She sent it along, and both were surprised to see the photo flashed on the hotel’s marquee with a congratulatory message.

Barbara also remembers that during a hospital stay several years ago, “they sent me a bouquet of flowers. When I got home, I got a fruit basket, all from Sam’s Town.”

Audrey Bucci has been coming daily for 35 years. When husband Henry died in 2011, the casino hosted a memorial service on a balcony overlooking Mystic Falls.

“Seventy-five employees came up that day to say hello and tell me how sorry they were,” says Bucci, known by regulars and staff as “Miss Audrey.”

“It really made you feel very special, because what other casino now, when somebody dies, they’re going to go to all that trouble to come up and say hi? I still have a little book at home that they all signed.”

She pauses. “I’m going to tear up.”

Sense of belonging

There’s a sense of family here, says Ginger Glass-Trotter, a cocktail server at Sam’s Town for 25 years. “We are the only family some of these folks have. We’re the only ones who say, ‘How are you doing today?’ “

Glass-Trotter sang at Roxy’s Lounge for several years. Her daughter, who has special needs, had a medical condition at a time when “insurance could discriminate against pre-existing conditions,” she says.

A manager suggested that she come on as a full-time employee and be covered by the company’s medical plan. By the time she was hired, “Boyd Gaming was putting specialists on the plan just for my daughter.”

All consider Sam’s Town a part of their daily lives. Jon Avery can think of only one thing Sam’s Town can’t do: “Make us 30 years younger.”

John Przybys at or. Follow on Twitter.