Gaughan (but not forgotten): Exhibit pays tribute to Vegas gaming legend

Before he passed away at age 93 earlier this year, the El Cortez’s patriarch Jackie Gaughan was a regular player in the hotel’s poker room and dined with guests every day.

Even today the downtown gaming legend’s presence can be felt in the historic casino’s air, in the memories of longtime players and of course, through promotions like the $5 Jackie’s Burger at Cafe Cortez.

“Jackie Gaughan’s Downtown as Seen through Gaming Memorabilia." Photo by Jerry Henkel

He is also commemorated through a mobile exhibit, “Jackie Gaughan’s Downtown as Seen through Gaming Memorabilia,” inside the hotel’s Club Cortez.

The exhibit features more than 300 gaming artifacts on loan from the Museum of Gaming History. The items come from the many downtown properties Gaughan owned or had interest in such as El Cortez, Gold Spike, Club Bingo, The Western, Union Plaza and the Las Vegas Club.

Though it’s not a large exhibit, there’s a great deal of nostalgia contained inside the two glass cabinets and glass-enclosed desk, including historic casino chips, tokens, dice, keno tickets, matches, ashtrays, fun books, coin cups, postcards and menus.

A 30-minute video montage of the items plays on a flat-screen television above the desk and a handful of historic photographs line the walls.

It’s funny how many of the artifacts are decidedly “old school” in their design, but not really all that different from the gambling swag one might find in their pockets or purses nowadays after a long night at the casino. And many of the hotel facades pictured in the exhibit look strikingly similar to their current iteration.

It seems vintage Vegas is evergreen in the desert.

Even so, we can’t help but be attracted to the romance of days when the Rat Pack roamed Vegas and casino owners like Jackie Gaughan grabbed a burger with his hotel guests.