During my second week of work at Kirvin Doak in October 2008, my boss at the time – the still-missed Kimberly ‘Jude’ Juday – asked me to write a press release for Jackie Gaughan receiving a key to the city.
“Who?,” was my reply.
“Google him,” was Jude’s response (entry-level lesson #1: Google before asking!).
So to Google I went, and the next hour was spent learning about one of the most profoundly interesting people I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my five-and-a-half years living and working in Las Vegas. I’d take the information I learned about the pioneering casino owner in that first hour of research, as well as the stories about Mr. Gaughan I’d hear in the following years from the one-of-a-kind executive team at Mr. Gaughan’s beloved El Cortez, and often try to express his legacy to the reporters with whom I was discussing the historic downtown casino.
“Did you know legendary casino owner Jackie Gaughan still lives there? He’s retired but still plays poker with the customers every day.”
“Oh, you don’t know Jackie’s story! Let me give you a little background on this guy. He’s a Vegas icon, a pioneer!”
I had this conversation dozens of times and once a reporter’s interest was piqued in Mr. Gaughan, I could always depend on Mike Nolan, El Cortez’s general manager; or Kenny Epstein, El Cortez’s owner; or Alex Epstein, El Cortez’s executive vice president, to share a truly touching, often funny, story of Jackie’s legacy and his impact on their lives. The devotion and affection the El Cortez executives have for Mr. Gaughan always came through, and their stories always hit home in sharing how much this amazing man meant to the history of Las Vegas and legacy of El Cortez.
Once Mr. Gaughan retired from the casino game for good in the mid-2000s, he still continued to live in El Cortez’s penthouse apartment. It was his favorite of all the casinos he owned over the years, and the current ownership wouldn’t have had it any other way. Jackie was family and the El Cortez takes care of family. This is why they are a unique gem in the Las Vegas casino industry and why the historic property continues to have devoted customers to this day. Devotion to the customers and your staff was a legacy Mr. Gaughan started on day one and it’s this legacy that lives on at El Cortez.
This week, Las Vegas lost its last living Founding Father in Mr. Gaughan, who passed away on Wednesday morning. I only knew him through those stories the El Cortez execs would share or by seeing him playing poker every time I visited the casino. But realizing the accomplishments of this legendary (and I use that word in every sense of its definition) businessman, family man and Las Vegas advocate, made me excited to share his story every single time.
So if you’ve read this far, do me a favor. Do what I did back in 2008. Google: ‘Jackie Gaughan.’ Odds, and Mr. Gaughan loved odds, are favorable you may just be inspired and learn something, wait for it…legendary.
Matt Guidish is a senior account executive at Kirvin Doak.
*Image credit: Las Vegas News Bureau.