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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 25, 2006

UH athletics aiming for big Vegas jackpot

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

For a change, money may be going from Las Vegas to Hawai'i.

The University of Hawai'i Athletic Department is soliciting the Boyd Gaming Corp., owners of several downtown Las Vegas casinos popular with Island travelers, to become its largest single donor.

The proposal is estimated to be in the multimillion-dollar range and would be spread out over several years.

Stephen S. Thompson, senior vice president for Boyd operations in Nevada, declined to talk numbers, but said, "The university has asked us to consider participating to a greater degree than we have in the past, and we're considering it."

Boyd operates 18 casinos in six states, including several in Las Vegas that are longtime mainstays of the Hawai'i trade. According to an estimate reported in 2002, Hawai'i residents make about 300,000 trips a year to Las Vegas, making it Hawai'i's No. 1 vacation city.

Boyd Gaming's California Hotel Casino is a platinum UH Athletic Department sponsor, a level that requires a minimum donation of $100,000 annually.

In addition, Boyd Gaming, which has more than a 20-year relationship with UH dating to the late Athletic Director Stan Sheriff and basketball coach Riley Wallace, has underwritten an athletic scholarship endowment and participated in UH academic sponsorships as well.

"We love Hawai'i, we love UH. (Founder Sam) Boyd has always been a big supporter of the university, and I can tell you that we're always looking at ways to increase our involvement," said John Repetti, a vice president with Boyd.

Thompson said he hopes to have an answer on whether Boyd will accept UH's proposal for a bigger donation "sometime in the next 45, 60, 90 days."

Said UH Athletic Director Herman Frazier: "Any mention of a gift would be premature. We value our relationship with the Boyd Corp. They have been great corporate partners of the university."

If the proposal is accepted, it would be a timely windfall for an athletic department that lost money for four consecutive years and has an accumulated debt of $4.6 million, according to auditors.

Booster-group leaders say Frazier has told them he is seeking a lead donor for his plans to build an enhanced Cooke Field complex that could seat 10,000 or more and be used for soccer, track and high school football.

UH has strengthened its ties with the University of Nevada-Las Vegas recently, scheduling new home-and-home series in both football and men's basketball. UH had an estimated 12,000 fans in attendance for its 2003 football game at UNLV.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com.