This gaming giant was all about the little guy. Jackie Gaughan, who built a casino empire in downtown Las Vegas by developing friendships with customers, making them feel at home in his properties and putting himself in the middle of the action, died Wednesday at age 93.
As reported Thursday by the Review-Journal’s Howard Stutz, at one point Mr. Gaughan controlled 25 percent of the downtown casino market. He came to Las Vegas in 1951, when his family bought an interest in the Flamingo on the Strip. But downtown was his calling, and he eventually owned parts of the Boulder Club, the Gold Spike, the Golden Nugget, the Las Vegas Club, the Showboat, Union Plaza, the Western and his beloved El Cortez, which he held onto until 2008.
His hallmarks were his constant contact with customers, his warmth, his reputation as an honest businessman and such appreciation for all his employees that no job was beneath him.
“Jackie got around to all his casinos,” Boyd Gaming Corp. founder Bill Boyd said Wednesday. “Any time you walked around downtown, you were assured of bumping into Jackie inside one of his casinos. He was hands-on and a very hard worker.”
Mr. Stutz noted that Mr. Gaughan personally delivered coupon books to motel guests along Fremont Street and near the Strip, that he always entered his properties through the front door, and that he routinely did everything from plumbing repairs to jump-starting customers’ cars.
He lived his final years in an apartment at the El Cortez, under 24-hour care provided by the hotel’s current owners, the Epstein family. He enjoyed playing poker in the casino.
“Downtown is where Jackie belonged,” said his son, South Point owner Michael Gaughan, who offered to move his father into a penthouse at the south Strip hotel.
“He told me that’s where he wanted to stay.”
Mr. Gaughan must have enjoyed watching downtown’s rebirth from his front-row seat. Downtown retains an energy that’s very different from the Strip. Mr. Gaughan is a big reason for that. His place in Las Vegas history is secure.
A viewing for Mr. Gaughan will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Palm Mortuary on Main Street. A rosary will follow. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Viator Catholic Church, at the corner of Flamingo Road and Eastern Avenue. Then, appropriately, the El Cortez will hold a celebration of Mr. Gaughan’s life, open to the public, at 2 p.m. Tuesday inside The Parlour Bar — another opportunity for Mr. Gaughan to hang out with the regular folks he loved.