‘My Hometown’ profile: Las Vegas native Gabbi Imai

By: Erin Callahan – Staff Writer

Many see Las Vegas as a release from the real world, a chance to win big and party hard. Tourists come from miles around to lay it all on the line for a good time. But does the lifestyle remain the same for natives of the famous Sin City? Gabbi Imai, who moved to Las Vegas when she was 7 years old, saw the lights of the strip from a different perspective.

She lived on her father’s native island Maui, until 1998 when she was recruited to the Vitaly Scherbo School of Gymnastics in northwest Las Vegas. She described the city as a potluck of people and the “ninth island” of Hawaii, because many island natives moved there to reside on America’s mainland.


Even at a young age, Imai said she noticed some strange things happening in Vegas that she had never experienced before. Once she started middle school, she said she realized growing up in Vegas doesn’t allow certain privileges that other American teenagers have.

“A lot of people here might say, ‘Yeah we go to the movies all the time,’” she said. “But it was always hard for kids to go to the late night movies in Vegas because the theaters were in the casinos. Cops would monitor that. If you were under 21, and you were out too late, they would find you.”

“The casinos were strict about where you could even stand or walk,” she said. “You couldn’t go on the carpet where the slots were unless you were 21 or holding your parent’s hand, but you could walk on the tile. It was very strange. I really didn’t notice it though until I actually tried to do something and I remembered I wasn’t old enough.”

Even though Imai had important guidelines to follow, she said she still made the best of it with her friends. Between spending the night at each other’s houses, having pool parties and playing sports, she stayed entertained. And she admitted being a local definitely had its perks.

“My parents and I went out to eat a lot since they always have specials and deals for the locals,” she said. “This past Christmas break when I was home they were running a monthly deal and you could get a prime rib, plus two sides and a dessert for $5.99. And that’s not even strip deals, those were at casinos off the strip where the locals can gamble and earn rewards.”

Imai said the food is one of Vegas’ best qualities, and said it’s definitely something she misses most about home.

“For every birthday, and now every time I go home, we have to visit my favorite restaurant, Komol,” she said. “It’s located in the worst part of town but it’s the best authentic Thai food I’ve ever had. You just can’t beat any of the food in Vegas.”

Imai noted another advantage of Las Vegas: you will never be bored. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, she said there is something for everyone. Aside from the casinos and clubs, the city features many small entertainments along the strip like a catapult ride, rollercoasters and circuses. However, she has special recommendations for family travelers as well as the tourists looking for the more stereotypical Vegas experience.

“If you were to visit Vegas with your family or if you were underage, I would definitely see a show. Any Vegas show will be great,” Imai said. “But I would also suggest going off the strip to see what else Vegas has to offer besides just the gambling and partying. But if you’re over 21, go to a club! You’ve never been to a club until you’ve been to a Vegas club.”

Clubs in Las Vegas take their business seriously, and they take care of their guests, she said. Imai said many of the clubs run promotions where a “like” on Facebook can earn you a free drink that night. The clubs also make sure their guests have a good time, and sometimes that means a special celebrity appearance, she said.

“I was able to go home for my 21st birthday,” she said. “I remember one night I was just dancing with one of my friends and when I looked down, I saw all of these dollar bills on the ground. They were coming from a platform above me where Steve-O was just tossing them out to everyone. I was able to get $20.”

Imai said moving from the wild Vegas atmosphere to Dayton was a big transition. She said she noticed that people are friendlier here and they don’t hesitate to put others before themselves.

“In Vegas, people only cared about money and themselves. People would get conned all the time,” she said. “I think that’s helped me become more aware and cautious of other people, even though at Dayton everyone is just so much nicer.”

Although Imai has found her second home at UD, her time here is growing shorter. As she considers post-graduation plans, she doesn’t see Las Vegas as a part of her future career.

“Vegas will always be home, but I wouldn’t want to settle down there,” she said. “I don’t agree with the idea of Vegas. The people who live there never really leave the vacation atmosphere, so it’s almost like they’re not really living in the real world.”

And yes, even as a Las Vegas native, she liked “The Hangover” and described it as surprisingly realistic.

“The movie portrayed the whole reality of Vegas. It’s both a blessing and a curse,” she said. “It can be fun, but there’s a lot of ways to get in trouble and there can be very real consequences.”

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