Michael Gaughan was sorting through his late father’s belongings on Thursday when I called to have him separate fact from fiction.
According to the story making the rounds, casino pioneer Jackie Gaughan once quintupled a big land purchase in less than a year.
“That’s true,” his son said.
His father, who died March 12 at age 93, believed in buying lots on corners. Back in the late 1960s or early ’70s, Jackie Gaughan and a few partners found something they liked on a patch of empty desert.
Jackie Gaughan believed in the long haul when it came to land purchases. He owned a lot of land, especially on street corners, recalled his son. His father and partners paid about $100,000 for said site and planned to sit on it. But Realtors quickly began pestering him to sell.
“He didn’t want to sell it,” his son said.
Tired of the flood of inquiries, Jackie Gaughan, allowed a Realtor to put up a sign for a whopping sale price of $500,000. Eight months after the purchase, the land was sold for $500,000.
The buyer: Howard Hughes, who went on a land and casino-buying binge during his decade in Las Vegas, starting in 1966.
In 1995, that corner lot became the Hard Rock Hotel, which Peter Morton sold for $770 million in 2006, after spending $80 million to open it.
Michael Gaughan, 71, learned from his father, who put down roots in Las Vegas in 1951.
The younger Gaughan, who owned Royal Inn Casino, found a sweet deal in 1976 at the corner of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard. Gaughan’s landlord owned the Times Square motel on the corner, and that was the key connection.
With Michael Gaughan, his father and Frank Toti as major partners, they leased the 1.7 acres for 90 years for less than $1,000 per day. A bitter three-year battle ensued with four heavyweight competitors — the MGM, Caesars, Hilton, and the Dunes — fighting to keep it for its parking spaces.
After a hard-won vote from the County Commission, the $11.5 million Barbary Coast opened March 2, 1979.
“If they could have held me off one more year, they would have broke me,” Gaughan said.
In 2005, Boyd Gaming purchased the Barbary Coast, with young Gaughan receiving 18.5 percent of the Boyd Corporation.
Two years later, Boyd swapped the Barbary Coast to Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) in exchange for the Westward Ho site, which was to become Boyd’s Echelon Place project.
In two months, The Cromwell opens on the former site of the Barbary Coast. The all-in cost for what has been called one of the best corners in the U.S. probably will top half a billion. The Westward Ho deal was worth an estimated $320 million, and The Cromwell renovation is a reported $185 million.
Gaughan isn’t a fan of the new name.
“If you are Irish, that’s a slap in the face. Oliver Cromwell was not a very nice guy,” he said.
Cromwell reconquered Ireland in 1649 and remains a hated figure in Irish history. Jackie Gaughan was buried on St. Patrick’s Day.
THE SCENE AND HEARD
TV crews have been swarming around the High Roller since it opened Monday at The Linq, the $550 million retail and entertainment corridor. Spotted Thursday in front of the Yardhouse: a crew from Australia and Los Angeles-based CBS reporter Branden Scott, who was shooting for the network’s “This Morning” on Saturday. …
Tony Sacca’s recollection of comic legend David Brenner’s habit of carrying $100 bills in his socks brought back fond memories of David Atwell for political gadfly Mike Schaeffer. Atwell, a legendary Realtor who closed many of the biggest deals on the Strip, would carry $5,000 in $100 bills tucked in a boot, Schaeffer recalled. Atwell died in December, and he is missed.
Las Vegas’ newest headliner Olivia Newton-John, spotted at “Absinthe” (Caesars Palace) on Thursday. She took in the “Donny &Marie Show” on Wednesday at the Flamingo. Newton-John’s 45-show run of “Summer Nights” opens Tuesday in the “Donny &Marie” showroom. She arrived at Wednesday’s news conference in the only remaining car from the 1978 film “Grease,” in which she co-starred with John Travolta.
THE PUNCH LINE
“Las Vegas just opened the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, which is 550-feet high. They say it’s the perfect place to take your kids — and then leave them while you hit the blackjack table.” — Jimmy Fallon
Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or email him at email@example.com. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas,” airs Thursdays on the “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.