“Boyd Gaming will be issuing a public statement later this morning announcing the acquisition of Dania Jai-Alai,” Steve Snyder told us as we sat across from him in his 4th floor executive office, John Knox (GM) and Clint Morris (CFO) probably knew this already. John and Clint, having been with Snyder much longer than I had, were privy to some of Steve’s negotiations. Clint had to provide financial statements. John was Steve’s right-hand man in fronton operations. I was kept in the dark, only knowing there could be a sale… or maybe not.
Now, I was concerned with the first and obvious question that would pop into anyone’s mind with his announcement. What is going to happen to us? I knew that many companies, when sold, have an agreement to retain top management. This is not only to have a smooth transition, but, also, for the previous owner to protect his/her people, especially top management.
When I broached the subject with Steve, he said we had nothing to worry about. Boyd knew nothing about running a Jai-Alai operation and needed us. Jai-Alai was necessary to obtain the slots license from the state. They were still bound together in the statutes. “But there is no written agreement to retain anyone,” he said. So, we really had no safety net. This is not what I wanted to hear.
“I felt Boyd Gaming was the best fit for us,” Steve said. “It is a public company still run like a family business. I liked the top people, and they have an eye on expansion.” He, also, liked the price. When the financial press release came out, Boyd had agreed to pay $152 million for Dania Jai-Alai.
I was truly happy for Steve. He was a self-made man. He didn’t inherit money. He had risked it all on his purchase of the Dania and Milford frontons. When the pari-mutuel business in Florida started waning due to the lottery and other gaming choices, Steve hung in there, trying to revive the industry. Now, it was time to cash in. Out of all the casino companies in Vegas, he chose Boyd Gaming.
I had visions of us being bought by Steve Wynn, owner of Bellagio and The Mirage. Perhaps, MGM Grand, having had Jai-Alai as one of their attractions in the 1970s, would make the purchase. The Venetian, Circus Circus, Hilton, Caesars, Harrah’s… I could picture working for any of them. These were well known Vegas hotels. But Boyd Gaming? Never, ever thought of them. I never even heard of them.
I left Steve’s office, nervous, and somewhat disappointed. I quickly did some research on Boyd Gaming on my computer. I had about an hour before a meeting scheduled by the visiting Boyd executives and our top staff. They wanted to meet and brief us on the upcoming acquisition. Another meeting with all the employees and players was scheduled later that afternoon. The announcement was about to hit the wires any minute.
I quickly found out Boyd Gaming Corporation did begin as a family company with original founder Sam Boyd. Sam Boyd was a legendary figure in Las Vegas. He had worked his way up from pit boss to owning a small interest in the Sahara Hotel. He and his son Bill Boyd acquired their first casino, The Eldorado in Henderson, just outside Las Vegas, in 1962. The family expanded buying other casinos mainly in downtown Las Vegas.
One thing I noticed in my research was that the Boyd operations were known to be squeaky clean. They were very respected operators and were even asked to run the Stardust casino by the Nevada regulators after the current owners were being investigated for “skimming.”
Sam Boyd died in 1993 and was succeeded as CEO by his son Bill Boyd. That same year, the company joined the New York Stock Exchange and became a public company, offering stock to fund expansion. That was their history. I wanted to know what they had now, besides their sights on Dania Jai-Alai.
I quickly found out that they not only owned many of the downtown Vegas’s casinos but operated The Orleans Hotel on The Strip. Also, they owned casinos in Mississippi, Louisiana, Kansas City, Illinois, Indiana, and Delta Downs Racetrack Casino. They, indeed, were big, yet I had never heard of them.
One of their prize properties was The Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. They were partners with MGM Grand. Borgata was known to be the nicest casino/hotel in Atlantic City. That got my attention, as did the final thing I read. Boyd had begun construction on a huge, $4.8 billion project in Las Vegas, touting four hotel/casinos with world-class restaurants, called Echelon Place. This would put Boyd Gaming at the top of the Vegas market.
Now, I was getting excited.
John stopped by my door and said it was time. Time to meet our prospective buyers. Our private meeting for the Dania staff was about to begin. I wondered who would be there, what they would be like.
Sitting behind tables set up in a large, almost rectangular shape, were a bunch of very friendly, smiling faces. And there were a lot of them. The CEO of Boyd Gaming, Keith Smith, welcomed us and began introducing people. First was the legendary Bill Boyd, now Chairman of the Board. Then, Executive VP, Chris Gibase, Mary Ann Boyd, Mr. Boyd’s daughter who was another VP. Then, the CFO, the VP of Acquisitions, and on and on. Lots of VPs. I realized all the top Boyd executives had made the trip to meet us and address the employees.
As I now look back on this first meeting and being a huge fan of the past television show, “The Office,” I realize the parallels of one particular episode. Dunder-Mifflin (the paper company in The Office) had been acquired by a printer company called Sabre. Employees were nervous.
Michael Scott, the boss, thought he would continue to run the office the way he had in the past. They sent a Sabre executive to Dunder-Mifflin with a slick corporate promotional film, narrated by actor Christian Slater, highlighting the wonderful attributes of Sabre. But, in the show, Sabre, also, brought with it a corporate handbook and its own, new corporate rules. Frustrated, Michael Scott asked to talk to Christian Slater. Of course, Slater was just an actor. And Dunder-Mifflin would never be the same. Would Boyd Gaming do to us what Sabre did to Dunder Mifflin? I was about to find out.