Las Vegas is sometimes called ‘Hawaii’s Ninth Island’ due to the large number of Hawaiians visiting, working, and living there. But the coronavirus has slowed the flow of Hawaiian visitors to a trickle, leaving Boyd Gaming with the decision to lay off nearly 300 workers.

Hotel California?

In 1975, Sam Boyd build his flagship casino, the California Hotel, in Downtown Las Vegas, hoping to attract Californians to Vegas. But it didn’t work. Californians had enough California already, they wanted something different. So, they hit the Strip with the rest of the gambling tourists.

After Sam started losing money, he decided to go all-in on Hawaii. He changed the theme and food to Hawaiian, added a Holo Holo cocktail bar, Aloha Specialties restaurant, and started advertising on Hawaiian television. He arranged package tours and destination gaming directed at the Hawaiian market – and he crushed it.

Since then, the steady flow of Hawaiians to Vegas resulted in the largest concentration of Hawaiians outside of Hawaii – hence the name ‘Ninth Island.’ 1 in 10 Hawaiians visits Las Vegas each year, often multiple times. ‘The Cal’ expanded from 325 rooms to its current 781, and 90% of visitors from Hawaii stay in The Cal or another Boyd property.

It’s an enigma: the hotel with the California name, located in Nevada, attracts mostly Hawaiians. Only in Vegas…

Trouble in Paradise

Hawaii imposed travel restrictions in March, effectively killing all traffic to The Cal. The strict travel rules included a 14-day quarantine period for anyone entering Hawaii. They also suspended flights to the mainland, and flights from Honolulu to Vegas were only resumed days ago. Too little too late.

But the damage had already been done, so Boyd Gaming was forced with the difficult decision to lay off 284 employees on November 13. This was not the first round of layoffs, and Boyd informed employees that the layoffs were a “direct result” of the decline in Hawaiian tourism. Boyd has already laid off thousands of employees from its various casino properties since the beginning of the pandemic.

The layoffs include dealers, custodians, food servers, and guest room attendants. In a notice to the departing employees, Boyd addressed the reasons for the layoffs in a statement.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year, we hoped that the disease would be under control and that the regulatory restrictions on our operations and the sudden decrease in visitors would be short-lived,” the company wrote.

“As we are all aware, the pandemic continues with no predictable date for its end. Because of the unforeseeable and dramatic continuing impacts of pandemic-related restrictions on our customers and our business, Boyd Gaming is giving as much notice as is practicable.”


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Jean Carter is from Oakland, California and studied jewelry design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco, California. After graduation, and pining for a warmer climate, Jean relocated to the Tule Springs suburb of Las Vegas, where she owns and operates her own online jewelry boutique incorporating traditional native American styles with her own unique designs. A true fan of the sophistication and glamor of Las Vegas casino life, Jean is also a freelance blogger specializing in all things suave and fashionable surrounding the casino lifestyle.