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Las Vegas Is Hawaii's 'Ninth Island'

On the surface, Hawaii and Las Vegas don’t have a lot in common.

One’s a tropical island with clear blue water and lush greenery, and the other is a bone-dry desert.

But Hawaiians love Las Vegas. Las Vegas has the biggest population of Hawaiians outside Hawaii, so the city is sometimes called the ninth island.

Dorinda Burnet is the president of the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that many people from Hawaii are attracted to Las Vegas because, like their home state, it is a community that is based in the tourism and the service industry.

However, Las Vegas is a lot less expensive place to live. Housing prices and basics like food and gas are much cheaper in Las Vegas than on the island.

It is not just people from the Hawaiian archipelago that are calling Las Vegas home, Burnet said. People from several Pacific Islands, including Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Micronesia have moved to Las Vegas.

Burnet said that many people from those Pacific Island nations came to Southern Nevada through Brigham Young University in Hawaii and BYU in Provo. She said many people from Polynesian are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

While many people from Hawaii and other Pacific Island nations have decided to live in Las Vegas, a lot come here to gamble. Burnet said Boyd Gaming was the first company to market to Hawaiians.

The California Hotel downtown has long catered to Hawaiians.

Burnet said casino companies like to have Hawaiians in their casinos because they are not known to "cause any hassles" and they love to gamble.

While people from Hawaii have moved to Las Vegas, they still work to keep their culture alive. Burnet said the civic club she is a part of was started when the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in the 1800s and a voice for the people was needed.

She said the club aims to be a unified voice for the Hawaiian people and provide inspiration, motivation and education.

“We can talk about the good ‘ol days of where we were raised but if we don’t go ahead and share that part of our culture with our children there lies no foundation,” she said.

As part of that education effort, the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club will hold its 28th Annual Pacific Islander Festival on September 15 and 16 in Henderson. 

The festival will feature live entertainment, craft booths, an area with traditional games for kids, and of course, food.

Burnet said it is part of the Aloha Spirit or the spirit of giving and sharing. 

Dorinda Burnet, president, Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.