Don Laughlin: The Man Behind the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino

Don Laughlin: The Man Behind the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino

Once upon a time, South Pointe (now Laughlin), Nevada, laid bare and was as deserted and sparsely populated as a ghost town. However, in 1964, a man with an extraordinary vision turned the once-barren terrain into an oasis in the desert, creating a flourishing hub of entertainment and luxury. His name was Don Laughlin, the founder and president of the luxurious Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino.

Don Laughlin, a gambling entrepreneur and hotelier, was a risk-taker par excellence. He was a self-made billionaire whose vision took him from ordinary to extraordinary. He is the only individual in the casino industry to have built his town, which was later named after him.

Today’s casino news examines Don Laughlin’s personal life, career achievements, and glorious exit.

Don Laughlin: From Fur Trapper to Fortune Maker

Donald Joseph Laughlin was born to Raymond and Olive Laughlin on May 4th, 1931, in Owatonna, Minnesota. Growing up on a dairy farm, Don demonstrated a rare entrepreneurship talent and an affinity for risk-taking from an early age. As a teenager, he earned substantial profits from trapping mink and muskrats, which he used to purchase slot machines for local pubs. He made half a thousand dollars per week as a secondary school student.

Concerned about his student’s ventures, Don’s high school principal gave him an ultimatum—either give up the gambling business or leave school. However, Don made him realize that he earns three times what the principal earned. Confident in his entrepreneurial pursuits, he chose his business and fully invested in the gambling industry.

Slot machines were banned in Nevada in 1953. Therefore, Don Laughlin moved to Las Vegas with his wife because they were legal in the city. He worked during the day and gambled at night. 

After accumulating enough money, he purchased the 101 Club in 1954, a bar with a few slots and a poker table. It was the only establishment in the region that served blackjack. Laughlin transformed the establishment into a profitable venture with clear casino games rules.

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Don Laughlin and the Development of the Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino

In 1964, Don Laughlin stumbled upon a remote patch of desert south of Vegas along the Colorado River while flying his plane, which he had already learned to pilot. He believed the desolate area, which had nothing but a dirt road and a bankrupt eight-room motel, would be a thriving casino destination. Don bought 6.5 acres of the land for $35,000 plus a $200,000 mortgage. And he transformed the barren landscape into a bustling town named after him.

In 1966, he opened the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino, offering chicken dinners, twelve slot machine casino games, two live gambling tables, and eight motel rooms. Over the years, he expanded the Riverside Resort, adding more rooms. He added a west wing in 1972, which contained 48 rooms. Then, he added a 58-room east wing in 1975 and a 14-story hotel/casino tower in 1983. In 1994, he brought the total room count to 1,404 by adding a 28-story tower.

As time passed, the resort added more services and provided more casino games, from poker and slots to blackjack and European Roulette. He also expanded the vehicle spaces, realizing that not all who came to play would book accommodation.

Recognizing that most of his clientele would be rolling in from Arizona and California, Laughlin went the extra mile to ensure their journey was smooth as silk since the internet had yet to allow online casino gaming. He upgraded the roads and poured $3.5 million into constructing the Laughlin Bridge, which he generously donated to Arizona and Nevada.

But that’s not all. Laughlin gave the airport across the river a makeover and even provided a free ferry service to the Riverside Resort. With all these incredible perks, the resort became the hottest spot in town and witnessed a significant surge in casino revenue.

A Passing of a Dreambuilder

Laughlin died in his penthouse home in the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino on October 22nd, 2023, passing away at 92. That was after a year of his wife Betty Laughlin’s passing in 2022. The couple is survived by three children, grandchildren, and great (even great-great) grandchildren.

Don Laughlin wasn’t just about building a casino empire—he was also big on giving back to the community. His philanthropic endeavors often had a dual purpose: to benefit his community and business interests. His dedication to continual building and expansion led to the thriving of Laughlin, Nevada. The town now boasts eight casino resorts, over two million annual visitors, and a population of over 9,000 residents.

Luck, Laughter, and Legacy

Don Laughlin’s escapades have forever shaped the gambling industry, and his unusual foresight lives on through the thriving town and casino that bear his name. In 1991, he was inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame to recognize his significant impact on the industry.

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