Sunday, March 16, 2014

An Old-School Legend Has Left Us

The sad news came this week that Downtown Vegas icon Jackie Gaughan had passed away at the age of 93. At one time he owned a big parcel of Downtown's casino action: In addition to the El Cortez, which he acquired in 1963, and the Gold Spike, the Plaza's neon was once all lit up as "Jackie Gaughan's Plaza." My own memorable encounter with Mr. Gaughan came when I was playing poker at the El Cortez, and the guy whose face was on the player's card came to the table and sat down to play with us. A casino employee brought him a box full of chips, and he sat there joking with some of the old-timers, in his own dry and understated way, about going up to his penthouse to hang out and smoke some loco weed. You have to give Jackie credit, too, because even though years ago a lot of bettors had written off Downtown...a memorable Joe Bob Briggs column from 2002 is particularly harsh on the ghastly, spectral presence that the El Cortez seemed at the time, its neck of Fremont Street populated by street people and worse...under his stewardship the casinos managed to hang on, and have survived to see the Downtown Renaissance, a sight which must have immensely cheered Mr. Gaughan in recent years. Even the El Cortez got a makeover and a significant expansion, and the historic resort can go on celebrating one-time owner Bugsy Siegel's birthday every year. It may be a stretch to say that Jackie Gaughan was a visionary...well, maybe not too far a stretch.

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