Casino Owner Jackie Gaughan Dies at 93 and Is Buried in Las Vegas

Jackie Gaughan Plaza Button

Jackie Gaughan Once Owned 25% of Downtown Las Vegas Gaming

Las Vegas casino owner and legend, Jackie Gaughan, died this week at the age of 93 and was laid to rest on March 17, 2014. Jackie Gaughan was a casino owner in the city since the 1950’s. At one time in the Fifties, he owned 25% of the real estate in Downtown Las Vegas.

Gaughan began his gaming career in Nebraska, where he ran a bookmaking business centered on the horse racing in and around Omaha, Nebraska. Local gambling was more freewheeling in those days, so he made money in the business before state politicians got a hand in the action. By the time he left the Plains States, Jackie Gaughan had a bankroll, which would help him with his real estate investments when he reached Nevada.

When Nebraska politicians placed a new 10% tax on legal gaming in Nebraska, he relocated to Las Vegas. His first piece of business when arriving in Sin City was to invest in the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. He ended his active role with the Flamingo after a run-in with mobster Davie Berman, but maintained a 3% stake in the company.

Later, Gaughan would purchase the Las Vegas Club (1961) and the Gold Spike (1983), then known as the Rendezvous. He also opened the Western Casino in 1970 and the Union Plaza in 1971. The Union Plaza was renamed Jackie Gaughan’s Plaza in the Nineties. This was not the extent of Gaughan’s properties in the city, though. He invested in the Showboat, the Golden Nugget, and the Royal Inn.

Mentorship of Steve Wynn

When Jackie Gaughan still had a stake in the Golden Nugget when Steve Wynn took over the property in 1973. Over the next decade, he would become a mentor to Steve Wynn, who would go on to become a much more nationally famous gaming figure.

While Steve Wynn and others began to develop the Las Vegas Strip and Off-Strip properties, Jackie Gaughan maintained his investments in Downtown Las Vegas. Eventually, he would own twenty-five percent of the casino properties downtown.

Failed Expansion into Atlantic City

In 1986, Jackie Gaughan tried to expand his operations into Atlantic City. Because he had a couple of gambling-related arrests in Nebraska in the 1940’s and he knew Las Vegas mobsters in the 1950’s, New Jersey regulators refused to give the casino mogul a license for a Boardwalk gaming enterprise. Such decisions contributed to Atlantic City’s decline, as they turned away decades of expertise in the industry. Atlantic City’s loss was a gain for the people of Nevada.

Reputation in Las Vegas

In a city known for scoundrels, Jackie Gaughan had a reputation as a hands-on owner and a decent fellow. Long after the Western Casino became a financial liability, Gaughan kept the property open, because he didn’t want to tell his employees they needed to find a new job. He was always interested in the lives and well-being of his employees, which is one of the reasons he was able to maintain successful operations when so many others failed in the Downtown area.

Over the years, Jackie’s son, Michael Gaughan, began to take over more of the day to day operations of the family business. (Jackie Jr. was a minority owner in casinos before he died in 2002.) Michael Gaughan is now the owner of the South Point Hotel. He also maintains the slots concession at McCarran International Airport. Michael Gaughan was an owner on the NASCAR Nationwide Series (South Point Racing) until 2007, but he now controls the remainder of the family business back in Las Vegas.

Well Wishes

Jackie Gaughan was a fixture in Las Vegas for over six decades. He was also known for countless “good works, charitable endeavors, educational benefits, and other contributions” to the Las Vegas community.

With each passing year, more of the 20th century icons of who built the gaming destinations of America are passing on. Jack Gaughan might not be as famous nationally as Benny Binion, who invented the World Series of Poker, but he made a similar contribution to the City of Las Vegas that Binion did. Mr. Gaughan may not be as famous as his former protege, Steve Wynn, but he influenced whole generations of casino owners and land developers in the area.