Michael Gaughan is one of the most important business people in Las Vegas that you probably haven’t heard of yet. He is the son of the iconic Jackie Gaughan, a well-known personality in the City of Lights, and, as expected, Michael followed his fathers footsteps and became even more famous. After Jackie’s death in 2014, Michael took over many of his father’s day-to-day casino operations. Michael Gaughan owns South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa, as well as the right to operate slots, under concession, at McCarran International Airport.
Michael Gaughan was born on March 24, 1943, in Omaha, Nebraska, to an Irish family involved in gambling and betting, but contrary to his first expectations he was not as passionate about his father’s business. The passion of the young Michael Gaughan was directed to racing cars. He became a rally driver around the age of 20, and in 1966 he won the Mint 400 race. Then other victorious competitions followed and he decided to take his passion to the next level. After long debates, in 1999, he made the decision to found his own NASCAR team, called South Point Racing, which became the only team in Nevada. Even though he had his son, Brendan, as a pilot, things did not worked out and in 2007 Gaughan took over this project.
An old-fashioned businessman
Michael Gaughan also remains one of the few “old fashioned” businessmen in Las Vegas. Some believe that people like Gaughan, whose family originated in the “City of Lights” since the 1950s, will gradually disappear. Gaughan built from scratch his own expanded property in Las Vegas. Today, a person who wants to build a casino hotel like South Point would need at least $ 1 billion, if not more. For this reason Michael is appreciated by all connoisseurs of business. “Michael is one of the last Mohicans,” said Anthony Curtis, a publisher of books on Las Vegas and the gaming industry. “His leadership style is identical to that of old times.”
When Jackie Gaughan and his son, Michael, built the Barbary Coast in the 1970s, with an investment of $ 11.7 million, they split Las Vegas into two. Michael had five years to make his father sell him the El Cortez Hotel, but provided that Michael keep his business south of Sahara Avenue, while Jackie would continue downtown. There was no question whether the city was big enough for both of them. It was a simple business strategy. As long as competition was between members of the same family, things couldn’t go wrong. Michael needed just six months to convince his father to give him the hotel. Even with the delimitation of Las Vegas, the father and his son did not worry about competing against each other because, according to Jackie, they were both dealing with different clients.
An equestrian resort
Just as he started building his fifth property, The South Coast, Gaughan and his partners sold Coast Casinos to Boyd Gaming in 2004 for $ 820 million in cash and shares. Gaughan joined Boyd Gaming to manage the properties he acquired, but the corporate life – with decisions slowly passing through the bureaucracy filter – didn’t suit him. In July 2006, he left Boyd Gaming and bought back The South Coast, divesting his shares of Boyd Gaming, that is the equivalent of $ 15.8 million, which today equals nearly $ 600 million. After the casino was again in Gaughan’s property, it was to be rebranded and this is how the South Point appeared. The casino had no debt when Michael Gaugahan took over, which allowed him to invest in its expansion and to avoid firing employees during the financial crisis that has rocked Las Vegas since 2008. Gaughan built the second and third tower over a two-year period, expanding the luxurious casino to an impressive number of rooms, 2,163, by mid-2008.
One thing that makes South Point unique among Las Vegas resorts is its 4,600-seat equestrian arena and its over 1,200 stands that host events for horse lovers for over 40 weeks. Gaughan, his wife Paula and their daughter Katie Gaughan-Banuelos have an affinity for equestrian sports and have built strong connections in this industry. Neither today does Michael Gaughan regret the construction of that arena which, according to him, attracts many customers.
From horses to rodeo, just one step
Michael Gaughan was not only noted in the gambling world. He played a pivotal role in bringing the National Rodeo Final (FNR) to Las Vegas in 1985 and negotiating several contract extensions that ensured FNR as the richest rodeo in the world. The total value has grown from $ 1.8 million to over $ 5 million in the first 20 years in Las Vegas, with an economic impact on the community during this time, that was estimated at over $ 500 million by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Gaughan is a member of the Wrangler’s FNR Committee and is a long-time sponsor, first locally and then nationally, of the FNR and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. As a sign of gratitude for his work, Michael Gaughan was included in 2007 in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. Two years later, Gaughan was included into another Hall of Fame, this time in the Gaming Hall of Fame as the founder of Coast Casinos. Gaming Hall of Fame was established in 1989 to recognize people who have played a significant role in the entertainment and gambling industry. Inclusion in this Hall of Fame is the highest honor given by the gambling industry. More than 80 people have been rewarded with this distinction from 1989 to present.
At 77, Michael Gaughan shows no signs of aging. Neither age nor wealth stopped him from going to South Point five or even six days a week to work with employees. About 1,500 of the 2,200 South Point workers are there for more than 10 years, said Gaughan, who meets every year with them all to discuss benefits and salaries. Almost a quarter of them has been working with him for more than 20 years.
by Paul Dan