The El Cortez has preserved and modernized the 15th-floor
February 14, 2017 3:01 AM
by Dave Dye
The late Jackie Gaughan, an icon in the Las Vegas casino industry, lived at the top of the legendary downtown El Cortez Hotel & Casino for three decades in a penthouse designed specifically for him back in the 1980s.
You can’t live there, but now you can stay there.
The El Cortez has preserved and modernized the 15th-floor, 3,000-square-foot owner’s suite that recently became available for rental at a minimum of $500 a night.
Gaughan, who owned as many as six casinos at once during his heyday, was still living at his pride-and-joy property when he passed away in 2014 at the age of 93.
He was an innovator known for his popular promotions and giveaways, not to mention being one of the most well-liked men in town because he treated customers and employees so graciously.
In many ways, the suite is a tribute to Gaughan.
“We have to keep it,” said Joe Woody, the casino’s chief financial officer. “It’s part of the El Cortez. It always will be. He was just a special person. People still today talk about Jackie all the time.”
Alexandra Epstein, an executive manager, remembers having family dinners with Gaughan at least once a week while growing up.
“We want to continue to emulate his character, emulate his values and remember him for as long as we possibly can,” said Alexandra, the daughter of Ken Epstein, one of Gaughan’s closest friends and business partners.
Gaughan and his wife, Roberta (“Bertie”), enjoyed entertaining in their high-rise suite to show off the magical views of the Las Vegas Valley, including the Strip at night.
Woody said many casino executives attended an annual New Year’s Eve bash to watch the midnight fireworks.
Not just anyone will be able to stay there.
“We’re reluctant to rent it out,” Woody admitted.
Alexandra Epstein added: “We will accept applications and requests for stays. I don’t know that we’ll accept every application by any means. It’s just something we’re going to take a look at.”
The actual price will depend on what’s happening in town, and at the casino, at the time.
Epstein said the first time anyone is scheduled to stay in the suite is next month for the college basketball March Madness tournament.
El Cortez executives chose to move slowly following Gaughan’s death before deciding how to best use the area. They gave the Gaughan family all the time that was needed to sort through their parents’ belongings. Bertie, Jackie’s high-school sweetheart, had passed away in 1996.
A couple years ago, musician Ellie Goulding shot a video in the suite. It was also rented out for some special events.
The location would have been ideal for a permanent speakeasy type of bar considering the vantage point. The fact they chose to only rent it out occasionally indicates the true respect they have for Gaughan and his memory.
“It has such monetary potential,” Woody said. “We’re not in it for that.”
They want to preserve the legacy of Gaughan, a proud Irish-American. The wooden doors at the entrance have Gaughan’s initials on the handles. The walls in one of the two bedrooms remain painted mint green.
“Trying to stay true to Jackie’s true spirit,” Epstein said. “He loved the mint green. Anything green reminded him of Ireland.”
The living room features a photo of Gaughan next to a piece of “poker art.”
“Jackie was a poker player,” Epstein said. “He played with customers every day downstairs.”
The furniture has been updated, but many pieces were built to order to make it all look very similar to the way it was when Jackie lived there. The kitchen appliances remain original as does much of the bathroom’s, including Bertie’s marble tub with a golden swan faucet.
Only one room was completely overhauled with the Gaughan’s exercise room being turned into a “romper room.” Among the more interesting throw-back items is a video intercom to see and communicate with anyone at the front door. It’s a little slow these days, but was considered state of the art at the time.
“A lot of people would love to just take the suite over and move here,” Epstein said. “But it’s more exciting to have more people in here. It felt the most unique to Las Vegas to keep it as the owner’s suite. There’s not a lot of places that feel this authentic or original anymore in Las Vegas.
“I think most have been torn down or renovated,” she said. “We just felt it would be something true to the El Cortez, an homage to Jackie and something that’s just a cool opportunity in downtown.”