Las Vegas Gaming Pioneer Jackie Gaughan has died

UPDATE 3/15/14: While Jackie will be buried in Omaha, Nebraska, there will be a visitation and memorial for him in the city he loved: Visitation will be 4-7 p.m. Sunday, March 16, followed by a brief scripture reading, both at Palm Mortuary, 1325 N. Main St. The funeral Mass will be 11 a.m. Monday, March 17, at St. Viator's Church, 2461 E. Flamingo Road. Burial will be in Omaha. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Bishop Gorman High School, 5959 Hualapai Way, Las Vegas, NV 89148. 

Jackie Gaughan gambling at his beloved El Cortez

Jackie Gaughan gambling at his beloved El Cortez

Las Vegas gaming pioneer Jackie Gaughan has died. Best known for owning the El Cortez and the Las Vegas Club, among others, during the hey day of Fremont Street, Jackie was a well-known figure to many.

Jackie Gaughan first came to Las Vegas in 1943 when he was stationed at the old air base at what is now Nellis during World War II. 

He moved his wife Roberta and two sons,Michael and Jackie, jr to Las Vegas in 1951.  He bought a small 3% of the Boulder Club and 3% of the Flamingo with partner Eddie Barrick. Jackie had a knack for sports books and handicapping.  In 1961, he and partner Mel Exber bought the Las Vegas Club and in 1963, they bought the El Cortez.  Gaughan hired Wayne McAllister to oversee the design and construction of a new room tower.

Jackie invented the Fun Book, filled with coupons for free drinks, free slot pulls and two for one dinners.  Like Benny Binion, he had a knack for understanding and treating his customers like kings.

At one time, he owned or had a part in eight  casinos, including the Union Plaza and the Showboat,  as well as owning the Ambassador Motel.

John L. Smith, long time observer of Las Vegas and columnist for the Review-Journal wrote several years ago about Jackie:

"At one time or another, Jackie has owned or had a hand in operating most of the buildings of Fremont Street. An incomplete list: Jackie Gaughan's Plaza, and a partnership with Exber in the Las Vegas Club, the Pioneer and Sundance; he was a major stockholder and board member of the Golden Nugget, and he owned the Gold Spike and Western Bingo, and the Bingo Club and Boulder Club.

Jackie also owned several points in the Showboat and the Flamingo, but as son Michael Gaughan says, "Dad was a downtown guy. He never understood why people would build neighborhood casinos. He liked downtown. And my dad always did well with the local citizens. Even the El Cortez does well today. He's probably had more gaming licenses than anybody else."

And the thing is, Jackie knew his places intimately, visited them daily wearing his plaid sport coats and a sunny disposition. Jackie was never too big to pick up an empty glass or clean an ashtray."

Those of us who grew up in Las Vegas back in the hey day of Fremont Street, it wasn't uncommon to see casino owners like Jackie and Benny Binion in their casinos or coffee shops keeping an eye on business.

As he got older, Jackie sold off a number of his properties but he kept his beloved El Cortez. He and his wife Roberta, who passed away in 1996, lived in the penthouse and Jackie could be seen at the gaming tables and walking through the casino.

When he finally did retire, he sold the El Cortez to the Epstein family. Kenny Epstein, one of Jackie's partners since the 1950s, his son and Jackie's nephew Mike Nolan became the official owners of the venerable downtown casino and hotel. 

Rather than give the El Cortez a make over and totally change the tenor of the place, they instead invested in renovating the existing facade and kept the El Cortez as she was, just cleaned up and looking ready for another sixty years of doing business.

Jackie lived to see his beloved El Cortez become a registered Historical Landmark.

Downtown and Fremont Street, especially, today, seem not quite so bright. The light of the El Cortez has gone dark

RIP, Jackie Gaughan and thanks for all you did!.

The Doors Ray Manzarek dies

Ray Manzarek, who along with his college friend Jim Morrison, founded the seminal 1960s group, The Doors, has died of bile duct cancer at the age of 74.


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If you grew up in Las Vegas back in the 1960s, it certainly felt like a magical time. While our parents were enjoying The Rat Pack, Tony Bennett, Broadway shows, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne and more, we, the younger generation, were able to see The Beatles, Iron Butterfly, Led Zepplin and The Doors (and more) in the Rotunda of the old Convention Center.


The Doors played there on August 25, 1967 opening the 8:00 show with Soul Kitchen.



"I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today," Doors guitarist Robby Krieger said in a statement.  "I'm just glad to have been able to have played Doors songs with him for the last decade. Ray was a huge part of my life and I will always miss him." 

Manzarek grew up in Chicago, then moved to Los Angeles in 1962 to study film at UCLA. It was there he first met Doors singer Jim Morrison, though they didn't talk about forming a band until they bumped into each other on a beach in Venice, California, in the summer of 1965 and Morrison told Manzarek that he had been working on some music. "And there it was!" Manzarek wrote in his 1998 biography, Light My Fire. "It dropped quite simply, quite innocently from his lips, but it changed our collective destinies."
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In January 1968, Jim Morrison was arrested for public drunkeness, vagrancy and insufficient identification at the Pussy Cat-A -Go-Go.
If you remember seeing The Doors at the old Convention Center in the summer of 1967, we would love to hear from you!

"Boylesque" Star Kenny Kerr has died

                The pioneering Kenny Kerr


Before Frank Marino flourished in drag on the famed Las Vegas Strip, that journey had been pioneered by the one and only Kenny Kerr. Back in 1977, he brought drag shows out of the shadows and made them  accessible and popular on the famed Strip. The flashy Boylesque marquee as part of the Silver Slipper sign signaled to tourists and locals alike that it was okay to come in, have a drink and enjoy a night of comedy that you couldn't find anywhere else on the famed boulevard. He held court at the tiny Silver Slipper for eleven years.

Kenny Kerr passed away earlier today.

From Mike Weatherford at the Las Vegas Review Journal:

Kenny Kerr, the bad girl that Las Vegas fell hard for in the ’70s, died Sunday. He was 60.

The star of “Boy-lesque” was the Strip’s first must-see female impersonator, pulling a locals-heavy audience into a tiny casino called the Silver Slipper for 11 years with his deadpan stare, cutthroat wit and killer gowns.

“It’s now to the point where there are three things you have to see: Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and ‘Boy-lesque,’” Kerr said in 1988, when the show wrapped its long era at the Silver Slipper in anticipation of the casino’s eventual closure and demolition.

Kerr’s impressions of Cher and Barbra Streisand were matched by his comedic skills as the show’s saucy host.

Drag was still somewhat taboo when Kerr came to town in 1977, but by then, he had already been impersonating Streisand for years.

Growing up in Blue Anchor, N.J., he was 16 when a couple who saw him shopping at a mall noted his resemblance to Streisand. They soon had him riding the bus into Philadelphia to perform at night while he was still attending high school.

“These people had a show of the sort I do now and asked me if I wanted to work in it,” he recalled in 1982. They talked a lot of money. ... Most of my contemporaries had jobs for minimum wage or less.”

Going out on his own a few years later, Kerr and his original cast showcased their act for free at the Sahara and caught the attention of Herb Kaufman, the owner of Wonder World discount stores.

The Slipper show quickly became a low-cost novelty for locals to take out-of-town visitors. But it arrived fresh on the heels of Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade, and for years Kerr said the question “Are you gay?” was one he had to dance around.

“It’s a question I can’t win by answering,” he said in 1982. “If I said I am gay, there are an awful lot of narrow-minded people out there. And If I said I’m heterosexual, a lot of people wouldn’t believe me.”

Kerr kept working after the Silver Slipper era, with long runs at the Sahara and Plaza followed by smaller casinos and gradually diminishing returns, as the rival “La Cage” revue proved fierce competition and the shock value faded over the years.

For more click here.


Kenny Kerr photo courtesy of

Show Producer Breck Wall has died


Ernest Borgnine, Karon Kate Blackwell, Marty Allen and Breck Wall


He made his mark on the Las Vegas Strip by creating and defining the afternoon comedy revue.  Breck Wall has died at 75.  He had been suffering from Alzheimier's Disease and was in an assisted living facility.

He was born Billy Ray Wilson in Jacksonville, Florida.  He had a colorful life that included a brush with infamy.  He played nightclubs in the South including two owned by Jack Ruby in Dallas, TX.  He testified before the Presidential committee investigating President Kennedy's assassination.

In 1958, he created "Bottom's Up!" after being inspired by the 1938 Broadway revue, "Hellzapoppin".

He arrived in Las Vegas in March of 1964 and the Castaways Hotel was open to his idea of an late night comedy lounge revue that incorporated old vaudeville routines with pop music, modern dancers and blackout sketches.  After a successful run, he hit upon the idea of an afternoon comedy revue and moved the show to the Thunderbird.

"Bottom's Up!" had many homes including the Aladdin, the Hacienda, the Mint, the Flamingo, the Sands and perhaps its most succesful residence, Caesars Palace, where the cast was headed by Nancy Austin.

Breck Wall was many things but he never lost his love of showmanship and his talent for surrounding himself with the best creative talent he could find helped change the afternoon lounge scene of Classic Las Vegas.

Reports are that he will be cremated.