Jackie Gaughan, the last of the old-school casino owners, has officially retired. He sold his shares in his beloved El Cortez this week. As many of our readers know, thanks to our History of Fremont Street, Gaughan has been a fixture on the downtown gaming scene for over 50 years. He has owned the El Cortez since 1963. He helped build the Union Plaza and at one time he owned the Las Vegas Club, the Plaza, the Gold Spike, the Showboat and the El Cortez.
But age was catching up with Jackie and a few years ago he sold his gaming properties except for the El Cortez. While the new owner of the Plaza and the Las Vegas Club struggle to keep the properties viable and the new owner of the Gold Spike, the Siegel Group, move forward with plans to renovate and upgrade the Gold Spike, the El Cortez quietly changed hands this week.
But for the crowd at CheapoVegas and the Big Empire and all lovers of Downtown Las Vegas, not to fear. Jackie kept the El Cortez in the family so to speak. Kenny Epstein, one of Jackie's partners since the 1950s, his son and Jackie's nephew Mike Nolan are now the official owners of the venerable downtown casino and hotel. The Epsteins are the majority share holders.
Jackie will continue to live in his suite at the El Cortez and will continue to greet patrons and make his appearances at the gaming tables. So while the hotel quietly changed hands, the ambassador and creator of the famous Fun Books, will continue to be the local face of the El Cortez.
The El Cortez continues to be the best performing gaming place on Fremont Street. That comes as no surprise as they are following in the tradition of Gaughan and Benny Binion, of giving the customers good values on meals and drinks and making them feel like winners.
The new owners want to maintain that tradition while making the hotel viable for the new tourism that is coming to Fremont Street in the next five years with the opening of Union Park, the Ruvo Brain Institute, the Smith Performing Arts Complex and the Mob Museum.
Other news is that the Ogden House, also owned by the El Cortez, is undergoing a renovation. It will be renamed the El Cortez Cabana Suites and will lose its 1940s weeping mortar front. That facade will be replaced by a 1950s mid-century modern look. Mike Nolan is quoted in the Las Vegas Review Journal saying that the renovation will cost $6.4 million or $100,000 a room.
"We like the history value of it," Nolan said. "But we are continuing to modernize it."