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Pedigrees & Hoards: The El Cortez Casino Collection


By Rick Bretz for CoinWeek….
Probably no other state has brought as many “hoards & collections” into the hobby as the state of Nevada. Several have interesting stories, like the Binion and Fitzgerald collections, but all started out as hoards.

The El Cortez Casino Collection, however, was true to its name–it started as a collection.

The El Cortez Casino Collection once belonged to legendary gaming pioneer Jackie Gaughan, the fourth owner of the El Cortez Casino in downtown Las Vegas. The El Cortez Casino has an interesting pedigree of its own; mobster Bugsy Siegel was its second owner. For many years, Jackie assembled a collection from coins found passing through the casino. While most were silver Morgan and Peace dollars, a few gold coins resided in his collection. I was told that the collection was on display at the El Cortez Casino for many years.

Jackie was the cornerstone of gambling in Las Vegas, and at one time owned 25% of downtown real estate. He also owned, had an interest in, or operated 11 casinos in the downtown area: the Pioneer Club, Las Vegas Club, Golden Nugget, Showboat, Union Plaza, Sundance, Nevada Hotel, Club Bingo, Gold Spike, Western Bingo–and his jewel, the El Cortez.

With such an expansive career, there are many stories about Jackie, and one of my favorites revolves around the mobster Irish Green. While the story seems to have grown in the telling, the version I heard was that when Jackie purchased the El Cortez he inherited a non-paying guest, Irish Green. Apparently, Mr. Green “did right by Bugsy Siegel” and was offered free residency at the casino for life. When Jackie learned of his “guest” he contacted Benny Binion (owner of the Horseshoe Casino) to try to talk Benny into taking Green off his hands. Benny’s response was, “Hell no, I have to feed him – you can house him.” And Irish stayed at the El Cortez until his death.

Rumor has it that the ghost of Irish Green still wanders the floor where he resided and maids have heard unexplained noises and doors open and close for no reason…

An interesting aspect of Jackie’s collection is its dearth of duplicates.  In most cases you’ll find one date/mintmark for a coin. The only duplicates I’ve ever seen are common-date Peace dollars.

The collection also contained a few gold pieces, but they’re extremely rare and seldom seen at auction. The only gold piece I’ve seen is a 1924 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle.

Gaughan sold his collection to Spectrum Numismatics International in December of 2007. NGC was selected as the authenticating agency to insure that the heritage of the collection was preserved and that collectors were getting the “real deal”. Over the next few years, pieces from the collection appeared in auctions and were quickly gobbled up by private collectors. Today, the coins are rarely on the market and command a healthy premium.

Jackie Gaughan died in Las Vegas on March 12, 2014, at the age of 93.

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