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Our Metropolis

[Our Metropolis]

Walkin’ Fremont with Jackie Gaughan

El Cortez GM Mike Nolan learned the casino business at ground level with one of the city’s pioneers

Audio Clip

Our Metropolis with Mike Nolan

This is an excerpt from the radio show Our Metropolis, a half-hour issues and affairs program that airs Tuesdays at 6 p.m. on KUNV 91.5-FM and is hosted by the Greenspun Media Group’s John Katsilometes. Tune in next week to hear the rest of this interview with El Cortez General Manager Mike Nolan:

This hotel has a rich history dating to the early 1940s, with Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel among the early owners. How did they become involved in the El Cortez?

Marion Hicks, who was a builder from California, actually built the property originally in 1941. He already had properties in town—the Thunderbird and Algiers. A few years later he sold to a group that included Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. But as the Flamingo became available, he moved over there, and there were some other notorious characters that Meyer Lansky put in charge at the—Moe Sedway and Davey Berman ran the El Cortez. Then Mr. [John Kell] Houssels bought it. He owned the Boulder Club, and Jackie [Gaughan] was a partner with him there. The Houssels owned the Tropicana and Showboat, and in 1961 Jackie bought the Las Vegas Club, and in 1962 he bought the El Cortez from Mr. Houssels.

Jackie Gaughan has been involved with the hotel ever since, and he was a true pioneer in the early development of the city, right?

He’s the main guy. In those days, Jackie was known as the slot owner. He knew more about slots than anybody else. When he had three percent of the Flamingo, it was all slots. When they opened Caesars, that was something just for gamblers’ wives to play, but every company that had a new slot machine, they put it in the El Cortez first. That’s where everything started. He would get the calls from Jack Binion and Bill Boyd asking how these machines were doing at El Cortez, and they would be able to sell them to the other properties. But Jackie was the slot king.

You’ve been involved with Jackie since 1978. What was it like getting into the business with him?

I met Jackie when I was in Boy Scouts—he was involved with Boy Scouts, the Boys Club and the Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas—and through high school at Bishop Gorman. When I was 21, I went to work for him as the slot manager at the El Cortez. I told him I didn’t know anything about slots, and he said, “I’m going to teach you.” And we’d walk Fremont Street every day. He’d call me at 3:30 in the morning, get the daily figures, and he’d come down at about 5:30, and we’d walk the street. It was enlightening. It was a lot of fun; we’d drive out to some of the other places. He wanted to be close to the casinos. It was always customer-based. He was always on the floor, and all the employees and customers could talk to him. He’s that way today—he’s 87 years old, he’ll be 88 on October 24, and he’s still that way.

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