One of my favorite places in Las Vegas to relax or just "zone out" if you will, is a walkway between El Cortez and Las Vegas Boulevard downtown. The, palm tree lined, plaza has a few benches and picnic tables to soak up some sun or catch a quick minute of alone time away from the crazy of Fremont Street. The Plaza is named after former Casino owner Jackie Gaughan and some weird reason, without sounding to dramatic, I like to walk through it and think about his journey.
Jackie Gaughan moved to Las Vegas in 1950. He bought a 3% share of the Flamingo and worked there as well. After an argument with an associate of Bugsy Siegel named Davie "The Jew" Berman. He quit his job (which was probably smart) but kept his 3% share in the property (which was very smart).
This wasn't Jackie's first encounter with Sin City, he was stationed at Nellis (at the time Las Vegas) Air-force Base and served as gunnery instructor during World War 2. After returning to Omaha he Graduated Creighton University in 1946, and took up bookmaking as his father did. Bookmaking was legal at tracks around Omaha, but after the State began taxing him he decided to try Sin City.
Coincidentally he stayed at the El Cortez only a couple years into their existence when he was stationed at Nellis. It is said he liked the direction the city was heading and bought a 3% share in the Boulder Club.
His given name was John Davis Gaughan, Sr. and he was born in 1920. Married his High School sweetie, Roberta "Bertie" Mae, and she was by his side for 54 years until her death in 1996. Bertie ran the count room at El Cortez for many years. Jackie and Bertie had 2 sons, John "Jackie Jr." who passed away at 54 and Michael who partnered with his father on numerous properties through the years, and still has a major footprint on Las Vegas Casino's and Gaming.
Many people remember Jackie Gaughan as the King of Downtown. He was well known as the owner of the El Cortez, a place the locals loved. Mr. Gaughan's popular business strategy was to keep them coming back with good gaming and great promotions. He was always available and very personable to his patrons. He would put in 12 hours days as a labor of love and held his employees in the highest regards, many times supplementing families incomes during rough times such as employee deaths or long bouts of bad health. He often paid for funerals or hospital bills. He was a humanitarian as well as a great philanthropist. Generous donations to the Catholic Church and numerous charities both local, such as Bishop Gorman High School where his 2 sons graduated and back home to his Alma mater Creighton University.
In 1987 Clark County named Gaughan their Humanitarian of the year.
Jackie bought The El Cortez in 1963 from a man named J. Kell Houssels who bought it back from Bugsy Siegel in 1946, I say back because Mr. Siegel originally bought it from J. Kell Houssels in 1945 but needed the money to help finish the Flamingo and sold it back at a profit just one year later. Subsequently Mr. Siegel was killed the following year when his associates got fed up with his poor money management skills.
Before the El Cortez Jackie Gaughan purchased the Las Vegas Club in 1961 and as Downtown grew he grew with it. In 1970 he bought the Western, a low limit, penny slot and Bingo joint and in 1973 bought the Union Plaza, later renamed Jackie Gaughan's Plaza. He made some money on the Hotel Nevada in the mid 70's by buying it, selling it, buying it back and selling it again. He bought what would eventually turn into the Gold Spike, in 1983, changed the marketing scheme, made it low limit everything and the locals loved that as well. Everything he touched seemingly turned to Gold.
Jackie invested heavily in the Golden Nugget, Royal Inn and The Showboat Casino. He once owned 25% of the downtown gaming market, an achievement that will never be duplicated in today's Casino Industry. He was the last of his era and things have changed, some say for the better. In his day he was the pioneer doing the changing today its done by big corporations.
Jackie Gaughan always said his properties were up for sale everyday, "I'll sell them all if anyone is willing to pay my price". Jackie took one step toward retirement in 2004 selling Plaza, Gold Spike, Las Vegas Club and Western for $82 Million. Then in 2008 he sold off his majority of El Cortez to good friend and Hotel Executive Kenny Epstein but retained his Hotel Management position as well as his top floor penthouse residence. He ate in the Cafe every day and played poker everyday after his "retirement" until about 1 month before his death.
Jackie Gaughan passed away on March 12th 2014 he had a great proudness of his Irish heritage and his funeral services took place on St Patrick's Day. He is buried back in Omaha next to his wife Roberta. I'm sure he rests proudly knowing that Billions of memories have been made in the downtown that he reigned over for more then 50 years.