Don Laughlin, Riverside Resort owner and namesake of Nevada town, dies at 92

Don Laughlin, the renowned real estate developer and owner of the Riverside Resort in Southern Nevada, has passed away.

Born in 1931, Laughlin, aged 92, passed away due to an undisclosed cause of death on Sunday, as announced on Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino’s official Facebook page.

Don Laughlin is the eponym of Laughlin, Nevada. In 1966, Laughlin opened the Riverside Resort, a venture that marked the inception of the town that would bear his name.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Laughlin kept actively managing the establishment, even at the age of 85, with tireless 14-hour workdays. At the time of his passing, he was commemorating the 50th anniversary of the resort.

Don Laughlin’s journey from humble beginnings in Owatonna, Minnesota, saw him rise to prominence. As a teenager, he operated a route of slot machines and punchboards, capitalizing on relatively lax gambling law enforcement. When given an ultimatum by his high school principal to choose between his route or education, he opted to pursue his profitable enterprise.

“I said, ‘I’m making three times what you are, so I’m out the door,’” Laughlin told the Review-Journal in a 1999 interview.

Laughlin relocated to Las Vegas in 1952, initially working as a waiter during the day while attending dealer school at night. In 1954, he purchased the 101 Club in North Las Vegas. Following the sale of the 101 Club in 1964, he identified an opportunity in an eight-room bar and motel along the Colorado River, south of Las Vegas, across from Bullhead City, Arizona. Subsequently, in 1966, he established the Riverside Resort, featuring attractions such as 98-cent all-you-can-eat chicken dinners, a dozen slot machines, and two gaming tables, as per a bio on the Riverside Resort’s website.

His vision transformed Laughlin into a prominent destination on the lower Colorado River, drawing nearly 2 million visitors annually as an alternative or getaway from Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Over the years, Laughlin further contributed to the development of the region. In 1986, he financed and constructed the Laughlin Bridge, connecting Nevada and Arizona across the Colorado River. In 1991, he donated land and funding for the Laughlin/Bullhead City International Airport.

Within his Riverside Resort, Don Laughlin fostered a vintage Vegas ambiance. He maintained a hands-on approach, personally greeting guests while walking through the casino. As a pilot, he was known to invite fortunate patrons for helicopter rides, having accumulated 12,000 hours of flight time before relinquishing his license the previous year. In addition to his commitment to guests, Laughlin was equally attentive to his employees. He annually hosted a company picnic for them in August.

His contributions to the gaming industry were recognized with his induction into the American Gaming Association Gaming Hall of Fame in 1991. Despite opportunities to expand his business elsewhere, Don Laughlin remained committed to his Riverside Resort, declining offers to acquire other casinos, as per media reports.