Michael Gaughan’s career highlighted by innovation and an eye for talent

Michael Gaughan Sports Betting Hall of Fame

For most people, the honor of being in a single Hall of Fame is something that would define a career. For South Point Casino owner Michael Gaughan though, what defines his career is just how many Hall of Fames have inducted him. Here’s the list:

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame
National Gambling Hall of Fame
Nevada Sports Hall of Fame
Off-Road Racing Hall of Fame
Billiard and Bowling Hall of Fame
West Coast Motorsports Hall of Fame

And now he is adding Sports Betting Hall of Fame to that list. He is joining the company of the legion of HOFers who work for him at South Point Casino in Las Vegas including Vinny Magliulo, Chris Andrews, and Jimmy Vacarro. He also employed the recently retired Hall of Famer Art Manteris. The South Strip casino is arguably the home to the most accomplished people in the sports betting industry in history. They will be on hand at the induction ceremony at SBC Summit North America.

As fellow 2023 Sports Betting Hall of Fame inductee Nick Bogdanovich observed, while he never worked for Gaughan, he did have a hand in getting Bogdanovich his first sports betting gig. Bogdanovich didn’t think Gaughan would remember. But he did.

“He was very bright,” Gaughan recalled.

For Gaughan, gambling was literally in his blood. He is a third-generation gambler who moved to Las Vegas when he was just nine years old. His involvement with casinos and sports betting stretches back long before the opening of South Point.

After a stint at El Cortez, Gaughan opened the Royal Inn Casino with his father in 1972. It was there that his involvement with sports betting began. While most properties avoided installing a sportsbook because of the prohibitive 10% tax rate, when it dropped to 2%, Gaughan was one of three or four operators to give it a shot.

 “I put my first sportsbook in and my first clerk was Jimmy Vaccaro,” Gaughan recalled to SBC Americas. While he is now a Hall of Famer, Gaughan said his qualifications at the time were fairly simple and straightforward.

“He was the only guy I had that had any sports knowledge. He was either a crap or 21 dealer,” he said. “When he became the sportsbook manager, he was over two people,” he added with a laugh.

The Royal Inn sportsbook was more than just a new amenity for the casino, it was a big success. Such is the case at South Point, which is home to Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN) in addition to a massive race and sportsbook. Even now, some casinos think of a sportsbook as a loss leader or a break-even endeavor. Not Gaughan though.

“I have a different philosophy. I’m a casino operator primarily. A sportsbook is supposed to do three things for you It’s supposed to bring in new people who will play other things besides sports. It’s supposed to accommodate the people you have. And three, it is supposed to make you make a little bit of money. I kind of screwed number three up. I started making a lot of money.”

After the Royal Inn, Gaughan built up the Coast Casinos empire with properties like the Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, and The Orleans. He eventually merged that company with Boyd Gaming in 2004, creating the third-largest casino company in the US in the process.

While at Boyd, Gaughan ran sports betting because, as he tells it, no one else wanted the job. He left Boyd two years later. Now, in addition to owning the South Point, Gaughan also owns the slots route at the Las Vegas airport.

As diverse a career as Gaughan has put together, one uniting theme might be that he is always willing to bring in something besides a slot or table to augment his casino.

“You want to get people in your place. In order to win money, you must have people,” he explained.

This is why Gaughan was the first casino operator to put in a movie theater. He added the equestrian center to South Point. And, most importantly, he helped bring the rodeo to Vegas. However, as Gaughan tells it, his involvement in the effort was minimal.

“Benny Binion brought the rodeo to Las Vegas. The only thing I was involved in was that they used my airplane for three trips to Colorado Springs. However, when the rodeo got to town, Benny Binion put me on Las Vegas Events and they put me on the National Rodeo committee.”

For those unaware of the pre-rodeo era in Las Vegas, the town practically hibernated in December.

“December was the worst month of the year,” Gaughan said. “They closed the showrooms down, you changed the carpet, you painted the walls. You furloughed people. December was a maintenance month and the rodeo changed that back in 1985.”

Gaughan rallied other operators around the rodeo and, once they saw the impact on the bottom line, they got more involved in the event.

Now, events in Vegas are the hot new thing, even if Gaughan saw the appeal years ago. The upcoming F1 race in Vegas is the talk of the town and something Gaughan, who always raced as a hobby, is looking forward to. He did note, however, that they attempted this once before with the Caesars Palace Grand Prix in 1981 and 1982.

As a lifelong innovator, Gaughan would know when Las Vegas has tried something. Given his illustrious list of accomplishments, he was very likely one of the people who tried it. And given just how many times those innovations have led to his induction into a Hall of Fame, he has a track record anyone would want to bet on.