Our History


The El Cortez Is Born

J.C. Grayson, Marion Hicks and J.K. Houssels built El Cortez Hotel and Casino. Constructed for $245,000, it was Downtown Las Vegas’ first major resort.


The El Cortez Is Sold

Infamous mobsters Bugsy Siegel, Moe Sedway, Gus Greenbaum, and Meyer Lansky bought El Cortez and used it to train the original employees who opened the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in 1946.

Interior Remodel

Wayne McAllister was hired to remodel the Interior of the El Cortez while primarily leaving the exterior in its original 1941 condition.


Houssels Reacquired The El Cortez

Photo of wild west parade outside El Cortez, 1946

John Kell Houssels reacquired the El Cortez and with Ray Salmon announced a $250,000 expansion in May of 1946 that included a barber shop, nightclub, swimming pool and a 4-story wing.



Nighttime exterior of El Cortez showcasing neon signs

El Cortez remodeled and the cocktail lounge renamed to “The Rose Room.”


Grand Opening

Daytime exterior photo of El Cortez with 1950s automobiles driving by

The “new” Hotel El Cortez held its grand opening. Bill Moore was the general manager and Tom Douglas remodeled and redecorated the property. The bar was renamed “Buccaneer Bar” and cocktail waitresses wore pirate costumes.

Marquee Installed

El Cortez installed its neon arrow, marquee, and signature large roof sign – which are still Downtown landmarks today.


Supper Club Renamed

“The Supper Club” was renamed “The Pirate’s Den”. The dinner theater was decorated with paintings of “pretty pirates” by Denny Stephenson. The casino started using pirate graphics in its advertising.


Only Female Maître D’

The Pirate Den’s maître d’ was Pat Gallagher, the only female maître d’ in Las Vegas at the time.


Goodbye Pirate Theme

Jack Smith became El Cortez General Manager when J.K. Houssells took over the property. He launched several changes, eliminated the pirate theme and renamed the dinner theater “The Cirque Room.”


Celebrity Lounge Opened

“The Celebrity Lounge” opened and featured continuous entertainment from 5:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. From the lounge, Jerry Dexter hosted “El Cortez Calling” on Keno 1460 from 1-3 a.m. live.


Lounge Renamed

The lounge was renamed “The V.I.P. Lounge.”


Jackie Gaughan Purchases El Cortez

Gaming Pioneer and Nebraska legend, Jackie Gaughan, bought the El Cortez from J.K. Houssels as part of a downtown casino empire that included The Las Vegas Club, Plaza, Western and Gold Spike.


Tower II Is Built

The 15-story hotel tower was built and Jackie Gaughan and his wife, Bertie, turned the top floor into their private home where they lived for the next 30+ years.

The first color photograph on the page shows an exterior shot of El Cortez with the new hotel tower in the background


El Cortez Renovated

El Cortez renovated the casino and guest room interiors.

Tower King Room


Fremont East Entertainment District.

Fremont East Entertainment District became official.


Ike Gaming, Inc

El Cortez sold to Ike Gaming, Inc.


Cabana Suites

Long-time business partner and friend, Kenny Epstein, purchased El Cortez from Jackie and the 64-room Cabana Suites were completed in the former Ogden House – bringing the total room count to its current 364.

Exterior photo of the Cabana Suites at dusk


“Design A Suite”

El Cortez held the “Design A Suite” competition.

Photo of hip and modern living room in hotel suite


Life is Beautiful

The inception year of  Life Is Beautiful Music Festival.

Street art

National Register of Historic Places

El Cortez was the first Hotel & Casino to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The property was one of the few casinos to have never changed its exterior facade in Las Vegas – retaining the same signage and Spanish ranch themed architecture for over 80 years.


The Jackie Gaughan Suite

Jackie Gaughan passed away and El Cortez preserved a piece of history by designating his 2,700 sq. ft. penthouse home, “The Jackie Gaughan Suite.”


Siegel's 1941

Siegel’s 1941 restaurant opened and served classic American fare, including a world-famous $16.95 prime rib special and a lineup of Mob themed burgers that honored our infamous history.


El Cortez celebrates its 75-Year Anniversary

November 1st the property hosted a 75th Anniversary Ceremony where Mayor Carolyn Goodman proclaimed it “El Cortez Day.”


Rooms Remodeled

Tower rooms and suites were remodeled.

Las Vegas Downtown Hotel and Casino room


80th Anniversary

El Cortez celebrated its 80th anniversary with the completion of a 2-year, $25 million renovation which included a new high limit room, an updated casino floor and completely remodeled Tower Premium Hotel Rooms.


47 Hotel Rooms and Hallways Remodel

The original 47 Hotel Rooms and hallways underwent a complete remodel that brought modern comfort and style to some of the most historic rooms in town.