We lost one of the greats last week when Jackie Gaughan passed away.
As the well-deserved accolades poured in, I heard him portrayed as “legend,” “pioneer,” “patriarch” and “visionary” among other flattering descriptions. Pick any or all of those, because every one of them fits.
He might have been world famous, but to the millions of visitors and residents of Las Vegas, he was simply known as “Jackie.”
There are many personal stories being bandied about concerning Jackie’s generosity. He helped millionaires and billionaires while never turning his back on a poker player who was trying to run his last couple bucks into a fortune, or at least a meal.
Jackie played a significant part in my life, too. Without him my career in this business would have looked drastically different.
In 1981 I was working for Jackie’s son Michael, himself a legend, at the Barbary Coast. Jackie was in periodically and usually found his way to the sports book. He always had time to chat, whether it was about that night’s games or general bookmaking theory.
I was still pretty green, but I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and listen, realizing what a rare opportunity I had to learn from one of the all-time greats. It was a perfect example of why God gave you two ears and only one mouth.
That summer the Cal Neva was looking for a sports book manager. Jackie was a good friend of Warren Nelson, one of the Reno casino’s primary owners. Warren asked Jackie if there was someone he could recommend who was willing to move north and run the sports book. Jackie was also a friend of my uncle, Jack Franzi, so he knew I came from good bloodstock. Though I was only 25, Jackie convinced Warren I was worth taking a chance on. Warren confirmed it with Michael, and I worked at the Cal Neva for the next 22 years.
Though unknown to many Las Vegans, for Northern Nevadans Warren was similar in character to Jackie. Over the years I was lucky enough to be in company with the two of them while they swapped classic stories of one another and the gambling business in general.
One of my very favorite stories was one Warren told about Jackie getting his first Nevada gaming license. Now let me tell you, like many great storytellers, Warren was known to embellish the truth on occasion.
He wasn’t one to let the facts get in the way of an especially good tale. So I have no idea how true this story is, but I witnessed it told in Jackie’s presence and he didn’t deny it. That makes it good enough to retell here.
Jackie had submitted his paperwork to Gaming and was now making his personal appearance in front of the Board. One of the board members began questioning Jackie, looking for clarification on his financial statement.
“Mr. Gaughan,” the board member said, “you list your real estate holdings, investment portfolio, business assets, and personal belongings in your statement. However, when I add them all together, I see a $50,000 gap in what they add up to and what you state is your actual net worth. Now, Mr. Gaughan, where is that missing $50,000?”
Jackie looked at him, wondering where the confusion might lie. “I’ve got it right here,” Jackie explained incredulously, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a large bundle of cash. “I keep it on me all the time. You never know when I might have to cover a bet.”
Knowing Jackie, it’s not all that hard to believe.
Personalities like Jackie’s don’t come around very often in any business. We were lucky enough to have him in ours.
There is only a scant few remaining of those colorful characters who created Las Vegas. Family and friends will miss him greatly, but somehow his spirit will never die. It will live on in the city he loved and helped shape.
On a very personal level, he holds a special place in my heart, too.
RIP my friend.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. Check out his new website at www.againstthenumber.com and www.sharpssports.com. You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Contact Chris at [email protected].