A tip of the cap to a Vegas original

Jul 15, 2003 5:49 AM

In our page 2 story, we report that Jackie Gaughan was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Hotel & Lodging Association.

All I can say is, congratulations, and what took them so long!

But awards are nothing new for Jackie. And deservedly so. Jackie is not only a Vegas pioneer, a gaming original ”¦ he’s a prince among men.

I recall a few years ago attending an awards ceremony for Jackie, hosted by the Boy Scouts of America’s Boulder Dam Area Council.

At a luncheon in his honor ”” with more than 800 first class citizens in attendance ”” Jackie was at a loss for words. Humbly, he took the podium and looked over the many faces of friends and gaming people in attendance.

"I never saw so many friends in one place at one time," he said.

There were only a few more words spoken, but the happiness on his face spoke volumes. Before sitting down he said briefly, "Let’s do it again!"

The 82-year-old gambling pioneer was verbally applauded, and honored on a video tape as well. Steve Wynn, who wasn’t in attendance, played a major role in the video.

"Jackie has always been a kind and helpful person . . . He helped me get started," Wynn said.

Wynn said Jackie had the knack of always knowing what people wanted. It was something free. And, he still packs people in ”” not big baccarat players, necessarily ”” but people looking to have fun. Wynn said Jackie was probably the first to come up with the fun book. It gave tourists in town an opportunity to get something for nothing. Wynn said he himself would often pick up one of Jackie’s fun books in his early days in Las Vegas.

Bill Boyd, chairman of Boyd Gaming Group and a long-time friend and rival to Gaughan, described Jackie as a man always in motion. Boyd said he would see him in one of Boyd’s properties early in the morning, viewing what was going on, and then late in the afternoon run into Jackie at another Boyd property, keeping in touch.

Michael Gaughan, a member of the Gaughan family who followed in his father’s footsteps, wore a smile as wide as Fremont Street ”” the street, by the way, where Jackie is Âí­credited with keeping the faith and keeping it alive. Said one guest, "He is downtown Las Vegas."

I concur. Jackie Gaughan is truly a Las Vegas legend. He came here in 1943 as a soldier based at the Las Vegas airbase. He was born Oct. 24, 1920, in Omaha, Neb., to Michael and Kitty ("Careful Kitty") Gaughan. He was exposed to Âí­gambling as a boy and ran scratch sheets to many of the bars and poolrooms. He fell in love with the art of bookmaking, which is still his favorite part of the casino business.

After World War II, including a stint at Tonopah where he trained gunners for the Air Corps’ B-17 bombers, he and his ever-loving wife, Roberta ("Bertie"), and their two sons Michael and Jackie Jr., settled in Las Vegas for good in 1951. Both Roberta and Junior have subsequently passed on.

Jackie’s marching song has always been: Give the customer a good deal and he’ll come back. Jackie does that in spades.

Down through the years Jackie has always told Âí­everyone what he thought of Las Vegas: "The town has always been good to me . . . There’s no other place like it. And since I have no other place to go, I’m here to stay."

One attendee, who asked not to be identified, said Jackie’s mother, "Careful Kitty," had to be smiling from ear to ear at Jackie’s honor. She always hoped that Las Vegas would keep her boy out of trouble!

Boy, did it ever!