The Gaughan Also Rises

This week, a reunion of sorts took place in Summerlin, as the JW Marriott Resort & Spa and the Rampart casino, which had operated as separate units for a decade, were consolidated under the new ownership of Hilfreich Stiftung, a Liechtenstein-based foundation. Overseeing the transition and helming the new, combined operation is Michael Gaughan Jr., a third-generation casino executive who’s seen plenty of changes in his hometown, and who is now helping to write the next chapter for one of its most idiosyncratic casinos.

The unification of the resort and the casino became official on April 1, but customers didn’t notice many immediate changes. The point balances on their loyalty cards remained the same, and all of the slot machines stayed on. The biggest disruption was the need to selectively close table games to swap out chips: After 10 years of the same chips, Gaughan thought it was best to start off with new ones.

The benefits, however, will be immediate. Customers will now be able to use points earned through casino play at any outlet and in the hotel seamlessly, which wasn’t possible case before the merger. Another positive is what won’t be happening: no wholesale consolidation of staff, just some streamlining of management (for example, the casino and the hotel each had an executive chef; now, there’s one for the entire property).

Gaughan—the grandson of legendary former El Cortez owner Jackie Gaughan and son of South Point owner Michael Sr.—has managed the JW Marriott portion of the property since last summer, and he’s eager to begin running the casino as well. He’s quick to point out that Cannery Casinos did an exemplary job at Rampart, and that he’s not inheriting a fixer-upper, but he believes the new operation will be better for customers. The property, he says, has long catered to two distinct customer bases, and he’s looking forward to working with both in ways that weren’t possible before.

“Obviously, many of our customers are from Summerlin—most live within five miles,” he says. “But we also have a tremendous convention business that is primarily out-of-state. With the dual management structures before, a lot wasn’t done to get the convention customers in the casino.”

Gaughan hopes to do a better job of that, as well as getting locals to sample more resort amenities with their loyalty-card points.

“There are a lot of opportunities here,” he says. “This is such a beautiful property. The entire resort is terrific. We’ve got a great pool and a great hotel.”

Gaughan would like to see an improvement in traffic flow, and he’d like to bring in an additional high-volume restaurant. Meanwhile, he’s already spoken to several groups of locals about what is and is not working at the 13-year-old property. High on the list of complaints? The buffet was too expensive. So the prices are coming down, and with senior discounts, Gaughan is confident it will gain a local reputation as a great value. He also moots the possibility of adding poker, bingo or even a movie theater in the future, emphasizing again that his guests will tell him what they want.

Listening to the customers is just part of the legacy Gaughan inherited from his grandfather and father. Jackie presided over an empire of downtown casinos, and Michael started locals casino powerhouse Coast Casinos (since acquired by Boyd Gaming) before launching South Point. Combined, the two passed down decades of accumulated wisdom.

“They taught me that it all starts with customer service,” he says. “Treat your customers with the upmost respect, take care of their needs and interact with them constantly. Make sure that when they’re paying for something, they get quality. They expect value, and we have to give it.

“And you always want to under-promise and over-deliver.”