Las Vegas Sun

September 1, 2014

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Gaughan changeover leaves workers a little melancholy

For the hundreds of folks staffing the Plaza, Las Vegas Club, Gold Spike and Western casinos this morning, the sentiment about their hotels' former owner was clear.

Jackie Gaughan has not been forgotten.

And Gaughan is not gone, of course. He retains ownership of the El Cortez, which he bought in 1963, and now lives in a suite on the 11th and top floor of the East Fremont Street property.

But his $82 million sale of the four other downtown casinos he owned to Barrick Gaming Corp., along with substantial pieces of additional downtown real estate, end Gaughan's reign as the man with the biggest property stake in the market, as well as his role as a father-figure for thousands of hotel workers.

Employees anxious to meet with their new Barrick bosses were simultaneously sad their relationship with Gaughan was ending.

"If you want to talk about a guy with a family, my dad is the original," said Gaughan's son Michael Gaughan, chairman of Coast Casinos. "Steve Wynn talks about his employees as family, and so do I. But my dad's people really do think of him as family."

Among Jackie Gaughan's many achievements as a longtime downtown hotel owner, two are considered among the most lasting.

First, Gaughan kept his capital invested downtown, when many others began investing in greener pastures on the Strip and off-Strip, and kept his casinos open, even pumping in tens of millions of dollars his own capital to do it, while many other joints closed their doors.

Second, by accumulating more than 25 percent of available downtown real estate including more than 20 acres of undeveloped land, all of it owned free of leases, he paved the way for Barrick's extensive downtown redevelopment plan.

"He never believed in the neighborhood casinos," Michael Gaughan said earlier this week. "He liked downtown -- he loved downtown. He was a 10-hours-a-day guy, 7-days-a-week."

Michael said he tried to get his father to move into an apartment he built for Jackie at Coast Casinos' Suncoast in Summerlin, but Jackie wanted to stay in his suite at his favorite property, the El Cortez.

Boyd Gaming Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Boyd said Jackie Gaughan and his late partner Mel Exber were important downtown visionaries.

"Jackie's been one of the pioneers downtown," Boyd said this morning. "I've known Jackie for (more than) 40 years. He and my father and I developed the Nevada hotel and the Union Plaza. Jackie set an example for all of us to follow in downtown Las Vegas."

Gaughan owned a stake in the Golden Nugget when Steve Wynn took over the downtown property in 1973.

Wynn said this morning that Gaughan was a great partner and is a class act.

"Like everyone else who knows Jackie, I love him," Wynn said. "He's the most loveable and honorable guy. He was my partner and he was a doll (as a partner). I loved every minute of it."

Jackie Gaughan's lawyer, Bruce Leslie, was at the Plaza this morning when the transaction closed and Barrick took over Gaughan's four hotel-casinos. Gaughan, who didn't attend the closing ceremony, was unavailable for comment.

"He's the last of the great entrepreneurs in town" Leslie said. "He had faith in downtown. It's a mark of his loyalty to his downtown roots. When times turned bad downtown, he didn't abandon it."

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