Alexandra Epstein Gudai is partner and executive manager for El Cortez Hotel-Casino, the oldest continuously operating gaming property in downtown Las Vegas. She can be reached at www.elcortezhotelcasino.com.
Opening in 1941 at a cost of $245,000, the Spanish Ranch-themed El Cortez Hotel-Casino (El Cortez) was downtown Las Vegas’ first major resort with a then unheard of 59 hotel rooms for its customers. Today El Cortez holds the title of the oldest continuously operating property in Las Vegas. In addition, with its original architecture and signage, visible on Fremont and 6th Street, El Cortez is also the only area casino that has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Current Partner and Executive Manager Alexandra Epstein Gudai recently took time with Casino Journal’s Associate Editor Joan Mantini to answer some questions on the history and future of El Cortez. Below are Gudai’s responses on what is keeping El Cortez in the game:
What sets El Cortez apart from the competition surrounding it?
Gudai: Above all else, our history and authenticity sets us apart. Only at the El Cortez is vintage Vegas still alive and well; only here can you stay in the same rooms as Bugsy Siegel.
The El Cortez is family owned and operated, and this feeling permeates the property. Employees and customers alike have remained loyal to the property for decades and generations, so customers truly feel like family from the moment they step inside our doors.
Additionally, the El Cortez remains the best place to play for gamblers. Our slots are over 37 percent looser than the Clark County average and over 45 percent looser than the Las Vegas Strip, we offer full pay three-to-two single and double deck blackjack, $1 minimum on roulette and craps with 10x odds. We are also the only casino downtown to offer double roulette tables with room for you and 11 friends, all rooting on the same ball.
We are very proud to be situated in the heart of the Fremont East Entertainment District, where our customers can get a sense of this vibrant, local neighborhood. We are surrounded by some of the best bars, restaurants and entertainment destinations in the city, and this is an extension of the El Cortez experience.
What are you doing at El Cortez to bring in the younger generation?
Gudai: As our neighborhood has evolved, we have naturally welcomed in these younger generations.
Vegas StrEATs, an outdoor food truck festival that ran monthly for three years, was one of the first major events that re-introduced the El Cortez to younger customers as a destination for a fun, affordable night out. Since then, we continue to partner with local festivals, lend our walls to street murals and open our doors to all visitors who aim to visit our neighborhood. As our demographics have evolved, we have expanded our pit, with beer tubs on certain nights, as table games continue to grow more and more popular.
At the end of the day, however, our younger customers are attracted by the same offerings that keep our loyal customers coming back—a family atmosphere, the best gambling available, value pricing, authenticity and generous customer rewards.
How is El Cortez remaining desirable to the older generations and/or loyal guests?
Gudai: We continue to offer all customers a family atmosphere, the best gamble available, value pricing, authenticity and generous customer rewards. Our loyal guests appreciate all the improvements to the property, as we are investing in ourselves for their benefit. We find that our long-standing customers enjoy our new, younger customers, and the same is true the other way around.
Has El Cortez had any recent “facelifts” or do you plan to do any renovations in the near future?
Gudai: Being a 76 year old building, we have renovations going on 24/7/365. Most recently, we opened Siegel’s 1941, our 24-hour restaurant, and Ike’s, a bar and lounge adjacent to our newly-expanded pit. We renovated and opened the Jackie Gaughan Suite, the private penthouse apartment where Jackie Gaughan, our previous owner, lived from 1980 until the time of his death in 2014.
We are also currently renovating the adjacent Emergency Arts building, and welcoming Eureka! and another yet-to-be-announced ground floor tenant in the upcoming months.
Our next project will be announced very soon.
Can you share some of your more successful marketing tactics as well as any that perhaps did not prove to be the success you have hoped?
Gudai: We have found a great deal of engagement and success with our social media channels, our monthly $5 cocktail specials and the beer tubs in our pit. However, what truly continues to drive our success has been the reason for our longevity—fantastic odds, value, authenticity, atmosphere and customer service. The only tactics that don’t succeed are those that don’t ring true to who we are.