Golden Nugget (1946-Present)
Golden Nugget (1946-Present)
Location: Downtown Las Vegas
129 Fremont St.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
What’s There Now: Golden Nugget
Closed: Still In Operation
Golden Nugget opens on August 30 as a casino only
Expands to incorporate neighboring California Club
Steve Wynn becomes majority shareholder
17-story, 579 room tower opens
More rooms, showroom, and spa open
Second hotel tower opens
Steve Wynn sells Golden Nugget (and all of his other Las Vegas properties) to MGM on May 31
MGM Mirage sells Golden Nugget to Internet millionaires Timothy Poster and Thomas Brietling for $215 million.
Hotel purchased by Landry Restaurants
Casino and pool deck renovated
500 room Rush Tower added
The history of one of the most famous Las Vegas casinos starts in Los Angeles. It was there that a man named Guy McAfee displayed a perfect definition of the word “irony” by running a series of illegal gambling parlors in the 1930s. It was ironic because at the time, McAfee was on the LAPD’s vice squad.
He was forced to resign from the police department and, fearing prosecution, took his ill-gotten gains and moved to Nevada where he bought a legal gambling club located just outside Las Vegas city limits. Originally known as the Pair O’Dice and later the Ambassador Club, McAfee renamed it the 91 Club in honor of Highway 91, the main drag between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
That club was purchased by a Texas movie theater impresario around 1941 and was incorporated into the construction of what would become The Frontier on the burgeoning Las Vegas Strip.
McAfee teamed up with a group of investors that included the legendary Jackie Gaughan (who later owned hotels like The Plaza and El Cortez) to develop a new casino for Downtown Las Vegas. The land they acquired, at the corner of Fremont Street and Second Avenue (now Casino Center) had been occupied by a post office and a theater called The Majestic and later, after prohibition ended, a series of bars.
The Golden Nugget opened on August 30, 1946. There were no hotel rooms but it was, at the time, the largest casino in Las Vegas and the first building to be built specifically as a casino. It had Old West theme (as most properties of the era did) with sawdust on the floors, a handful of gaming tables, some slot machines, a bar, and that’s about it.
Over the next three decades, the casino was remodeled and expanded to incorporate neighboring properties such as The California Club in 1969 and Diamond Jim’s in the 1970s. If you go into the casino today, you can still see the structural divisions between the original buildings that even include different elevations (ramps and stairs unite the space). During all of this, the casino remained with the same core ownership, a rarity in Las Vegas during a time when gambling establishments changed hands almost as fast as the money at the tables.
That all changed in 1971 when a brash young entrepreneur bought a partial ownership stake in the Golden Nugget. His name was Steve Wynn.
Wynn had been an investor in the Frontier on the Las Vegas Strip and he used the money he made there to buy a small piece of land next door to Caesars Palace from none other than Howard Hughes. The narrow parcel of land was along what is now Flamingo Road, where the Octavius and Augustus towers are now located, and was barely wide enough for the Caesars overflow parking lot that sat on it.
In what is an almost legendary display of either hubris or genius, depending on your viewpoint, Wynn announced grand plans to build a 500-room resort and casino on the tiny slip of land and managed to convince everyone that he was serious. Fearing the micro-mega resort would both literally and figuratively overshadow their hotel, the owners of Caesars offered Wynn a huge sum of money for the land and Wynn walked away a very rich man. He used that money to start his process of becoming the majority stakeholder at The Golden Nugget, which he accomplished in 1973. He was 31 years old, the youngest casino operator in US history.
Wynn took the Golden Nugget from “just a casino” to the premiere Downtown Las Vegas destination resort. The first hotel tower – a 17-story, 579 room building facing Fremont Street – opened in 1977. That tower and the rest of the property were expanded to include more rooms, casino space, a spa, and a showroom in 1984.
The property expanded again in 1989, closing off Carson Ave (one block over from Fremont) and adding a new lobby, porte corchere, and a second hotel tower. It took up most of the land between 1st St and Casino Center Blvd., extending back to Bridger Avenue (two blocks over from Fremont). With the addition of a parking garage, the entire property took up the bulk of three city blocks.
Wynn parlayed his success with the Golden Nugget into major resort properties on The Strip including the game-changing Mirage, the pirate themed Treasure Island, and the ultra-luxurious Bellagio. Collectively they operated under the Mirage Resorts banner.
MGM Mirage sold the Golden Nugget (and its sister Golden Nugget in Laughlin) in 2004 to dot.com superstars Timothy Poster and Thomas Brietling, who had earned their fortune with a travel booking website called Travelscape. They spent $215 million to acquire the hotels but only had them for about a year before they sold them to Landry’s Restaurants, the parent company of such popular dining chains as Morton’s, McCormick & Schmick’s, Claim Jumper, and the Chart House.
The company set about a massive renovation and expansion of the hotel, updating the casino and pool area (adding a swim-through shark tank) in 2006; expanding the casino and adding bars and restaurants in 2007; and adding the $150 million, 500-room Rush Tower, a new porte corchere, lobby, and more restaurants in 2009. To accommodate the construction, the hotel took over portions of 1st Street and Carson Avenue.
Meanwhile the Golden Nugget empire has expanded outside of Vegas. It has long had a sister in Laughlin but Landry’s has added Golden Nugget branded properties in Atlantic City in 2011 and Biloxi in 2013.