Our History.


The El Cortez Is Born

John Kell Houssels partnered with John Grayson from California, and Marion Hicks, a Los Angeles Architect and developer, to build and operate the El Cortez Hotel-Casino on East Fremont Street. Constructed for $245,000, it was Downtown Las Vegas’ first major resort with 59 rooms and designed in a Spanish Ranch theme.


The El Cortez Is Sold

Houssels & his partners sold the El Cortez to a Mid-West group that included Gus Greenbaum, Moe Sedway, & Bugsy Siegel (later investors in the 1946 Flamingo) & Dave Berman on behalf of Meyer Lansky for $600,000.

Interior Remodel

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


Houssels Reacquires The El Cortez

Photo of wild west parade outside El Cortez, 1946

John Kell Houssels reacquires the El Cortez and with Ray Salmon announces a $250,000 expansion in May of 1946 including 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,” with cocktail waitresses wearing pirate costumes.

Marquee Installed

El Cortez installs its neon arrow, marquee, and signature large roof sign which are still downtown landmarks.


Supper Club Renamed

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


Only Female Maitre ‘D

The Pirate Den’s maitre ‘d was Pat Gallagher, the only female maitre ‘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, including eliminating the pirate theme and renaming the dinner theater the Cirque Room.


Celebrity Lounge Opens

The Celebrity Lounge opened, featuring continuous entertainment 5:30 pm to 6 am; from the lounge, Jerry Dexter hosted “El Cortez Calling” on Keno 1460 from 1-3 am live.



Lounge Renamed

The lounge was renamed the V.I.P. Lounge



Jackie Gaughan Purchases El Cortez

Jackie Gaughan purchases the El Cortez from John Kell Houssels for $4,000,000.



Tower II Is Built

The El Cortez Guest Tower II is built bringing the overall room count to 297.

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


El Cortez Renovates

El Cortez Renovates casino and guest room interiors.

Tower King Room


Fremont East Entertainment District.

Fremont East Entertainment District becomes official,


Ike Gaming, Inc

El Cortez sold to Ike Gaming, Inc.



Cabana Suites

El Cortez opens the 64 El Cortez Cabana Suites in the former Ogden Hotel bringing the room count to 364.

Exterior photo of the Cabana Suites at dusk


“Design A Suite”

El Cortez holds 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


Siegel's 1941

The grand opening of Siegel’s 1941 and Ike’s Bar inside the El Cortez.

Restaurant interior with stylized photo of Bugsy Siegel on the wall


El Cortez celebrates its 75-Year Anniversary

El Cortez celebrates 75 years of turning players into winners.



Rooms Remodeled

Remodeling of tower rooms and suites.

Las Vegas Downtown Hotel and Casino room