Don Laughlin and Karen De Shazer

Recorded October 6, 2010 Archived October 6, 2010 40:45 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: DDB000830


Karen De Shazer (53) interviews Don Laughlin (79) about his career in the resort and gambling business, his resort “Riverside” and the history of Laughlin, NV and Bullhead City, AZ.

Subject Log / Time Code

Don describes how he left Las Vegas, NV and moved to the Mohave County area to create his resort and casino.
Don describes the area when he arrived and by 1971-1972 he had built the first rooms and the casino, today known as Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino.
Don talks about other competitors and plans he offered to get people to come to Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino.
Don talk about how he built the bridge that connects Laughlin, NV and Bullhead City, AZ and the Road 163 that leads to Laughlin, NV.
Don describes how he flew to Las Vegas daily to get supplies for the Casino.
Don describes how the town got its name.
Don describes how he got interested in the casino and resort business.


  • Don Laughlin
  • Karen De Shazer

Recording Location

Mohave Community College Library

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type

Fee for Service


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00:02 My name is Karen deshazer. I'm 53 years old. Today is Wednesday, October 6th, 2010. We are interviewing at the Hargrove library. And Mohave Community College has Bullhead City Campus in Bullhead City, Arizona. I do not know Mr. Don Laughlin personally, but certainly no one who lives in this area has not heard of him and everyone I've spoken to would like to know more about it. That's all I want.

00:35 Thank you Karen. My name is Don Laughlin. I'm 79 years old.

00:43 Today date today's date is the 6th of October.

00:47 2010 or at the Mohave Community College in Bullhead City, Arizona

00:59 How long ago did you move to this area? And why did you come here?

01:03 I had. Could see a lot of business opportunity here in the resort business and the course gaming. I had previously been in business since the early fifties in Las Vegas area.

01:18 . Prior to that I lived in Minnesota. We had a lot of gaming it wasn't really legal, but it wasn't.

01:26 Laws were enforced back. Then. We had numerous machines slot machines pinballz to Fox's other gaming paraphernalia.

01:37 How to make a long story short when they made the felony law

01:42 I move the machines out. I want with them came in about.

01:47 And you said you came to Las Vegas at first long? Did you stay there and what cause you to consider coming further south into the law for now it's called but it wasn't called Laughlin man, Bullhead City Arizona area from 1963 until the middle of 1966 when I brought their bought the present Riverside Hotel Casino property, which was only a small property at the time do the years has gotten to be a big property. We've acquired a lot of adjoining real estate.

02:24 Panda

02:26 We've grown to 1400 room plus property.

02:31 750 RV spaces and a full gaming Resort

02:39 So what what prompted you though to buy that piece of property? How do you come about seeing it and deciding to locate in Nevada? Instead of Arizona wasn't because One Nevada gaming was legal in Nevada and not in Arizona. But but why why there why that little strip of land and tell us about how it looked when you got here not actually North Las Vegas unexpectedly.

03:07 I got an offer I couldn't refuse and I had a couple of yours, too.

03:11 Through the state of Nevada at that time. It was the only area that gaming was legal.

03:18 And I looked over numerous communities and we pick the

03:24 Most southern community and the lowest elevation in the state of Nevada coming down here. You could be successful what type of businesses were around in this area. They gave me would be a good fit for this area in the Bullhead City area are there wasn't anything on the Nevada side except about a dozen people remember their names and what they did. Did you find a Client List?

04:08 Jack Bauer snips

04:15 And what it what did they think about what they think about you coming here? What do they think about somebody coming in and having gaming so close to Arizona or I think they will increase the value of their property and we were able to get the Rhodes blacktop within a year or so and we were able to make a lot of improvements for the community.

04:39 Now, did you live at that time in Nevada, or did you buy some property actually in in Bullhead City in the Mohave County area anytime and live in Nevada? I have property in in Mohave County, but I've never lived in Mohave County.

05:04 Mine in your life. I think that's true because I believe you and helicopter also, but is that how you first survey this area or how you first got here is with a plane. And where did you land? Where is the local airstrip? And did you have anything to do with the airstrip? That's currently there in the Bullhead City area at a high altitude. You can see Kingman needles on several this was back in there and then really sexy as you can see several communities and I looking at it is me and Leo location.

05:40 Location that I bought was not available at the time.

05:45 It later became available and

05:48 As far as Landing I had to land on the Arizona side. There was a little a little dirt strip over there that way that way I landed on

05:57 I think I'll have it back. Then. I had a few hundred dollars. Now. I have several thousand hours and fixed-wing and helicopter.

06:04 How about that my age? I probably won't be putting out a lot more.

06:09 How the area was very undeveloped at the time when it rain we had a flood in the roads washed out light should go out for 2 or 3 days. It was not like living in Las Vegas on how I can only imagine this was a wild wild west we found out that we were used to try to close cuz we're it was hard to get help and the bars in Arizona close close at midnight then show where the people would come over and you couldn't get rid of them open 24 hours more rooms in your casino and starting to employ people from Bullhead City motel rooms, and they were just pull swamp coolers and the family lived in for I had three kids small kids.

07:05 And we didn't start developing till.

07:11 I think 71 or 72 Chevelle 48 rooms and then a few years later 52.

07:17 It was very difficult. Before Reagan was President. We were in the 70% tax bracket plus all the state taxes and there was no money to develop once the taxes were reduced to 28% by then. We were able to do a lot of massive construction and put them we didn't put the money in our pocket. We put it back in there and they operation not seen Isabelle smart decision to make because today you have do you have the largest casino in Laughlin?

07:53 And the we're almost at the top as far as hotel rooms are concerned about moving here. How did your wife and sons feel out here isolated in a little community in Nevada that no one had ever heard of the fact wasn't called Laughlin write them. Was it all how did they feel about a different than where you move from in Minnesota they say and then we lived in Las Vegas.

08:24 14 years before we came down here. So they don't Rick kids don't remember the Minnesota and we

08:34 The course I had to go to Arizona to school on that was inconvenient, but I don't I don't remember any of jections from anybody business is Good from the day we opened there was a lot of opportunity here and we didn't really get any competition for for 5 years and then call the bobcat.

08:56 Which ultimately became the Golden Nugget there was a little house there that they converted into a small bar casino. And why do you think that so much development took place on the Arizona side of the river instead of on the Nevada side of the river where the casinos are all unfortunately. Most of the land in Nevada is owned by the BLM Bureau of Land Management a government agency, and it's very very difficult to get private land for development. There was just a couple miles along the river.

09:27 The rest is almost a government pill California Edison come in and built the Steam Plant. Then I think they got like 2,800 Acres. That was a course. They focused only on the steam generating plant exactly like a regressive Ali spoke about your children going to school in, Arizona.

09:47 Where do you remember the name of the school what it was? Like, how did you get your kids their there? Wasn't that did they go across the dam at the time Davis Dam or did you bury them across the river? If you tell me more about that operation of the answer that question we have to drive them everyday both ways and back then there was no High School in.

10:08 Bullhead City show we had Dan had to go to Kingman and there was a bus to head to get like two hours early and then I'll get back two hours after school.

10:20 So you had to go pick them up every day on the Arizona side and you drove back over the dam.

10:26 For a long time now, I remember coming here years and years ago and

10:32 We was he didn't want to go over the damn you could park and there be a ferry boat service that would tell my boy from the Arizona side over to the Nevada side and vice versa. Did you start that up? Actually I started up. I was just checking one to start at the

10:51 PopCap Club initially started the ferry and we kind of laughed at it till they started taking our business and then we got in the ferry business. Of course, we had to get at least from the Bureau of Land Management on the Arizona side took years so that we were the second one to start a fairy.

11:09 How are things difficult to secure agreements between Nevada and Arizona was a difficult to to get along across state boundaries agreements come about like I don't think we had any opposition from Bullhead City itself. In fact, I think they welcomed the employment in the resort business in the area cuz they were not allowed to have in a gaming and

11:39 I've always found Bullhead City very Cooperative though. The problem is when you get into the government to federal government or state government trying to do business get they can take forever. I want to ask you about something that that I know that you did and that I think it was a boom a boon to the Community Development was the building of the bridge across the river near the Riverside Resort.

12:08 I know that today, they're still arguing that they needed another Bridge across the river somewhere in that argument Scott on and on committees committee and Etc. But back in the day. Why did you decide? Can you tell me about how that bridge got built and everything that led up to it and your contribution to it while the walkway Bridge it took about 5 years and numerous trips to Washington. We had Senators helping us on both sides of the aisle because we put up put up the money to build it.

12:44 And you yourself personally for the money. Why was that?

12:49 You can get agreement. I thought that would give us a competitive Advantage Plus several other reasons. There was a lot of people killed getting up to Davis Dam and back down the Nevada side which was involved five or six miles and the guy said before I'm competitive Advantage again. We got into

13:09 Numerous government agencies, I think 38. I lost count to be approved and I learned at that time that when you try to get in their realm of government.

13:23 And her private

13:25 Builder you got big problems and it took us 5 years dealing with all these different agencies, especially the federal to get the permit for the bridge.

13:41 That happened I think of 1984. We probably started in the late seventies. And once we got the remote and only took four months to build a bridge for months to build that bridge at how long do you think that would take the bill today? And I think they could probably do the same if they could get the permits and get through all the bureaucratic red tape. It wouldn't take very long did help.

14:18 I believe help the Bullhead City area and develop did it also help you with in your business and finding employees since off on so isolated from the rest of Clarke County introduced a tremendous amount of traffic over the dam. And of course now the damn was closed because of 9/11 and it's a bridge what wouldn't have been there after 9/11. I don't know what they would have done. A lot of people have said that is too small now that have you ever thought about expanding it and if it was expanded would you play any part in the other was it strictly have to be something between the there is Laughlin and Bullhead City on the bridge has been widened two lanes each way and it is getting

15:04 It's good to be the capacity of times. There's talk about a bridge.

15:11 And the Community College Area safety thing up nothing else and I just know I'm not going to pay for another bridge I can imagine how much it was if I can ask how much the cost back then.

15:31 I think 3 and 1/2 million dollars.

15:33 That's a nothing on nineteen eighty dollars a lot different and they went very fast. Once we got through the bureaucracy casinos gone up. Arizona has brought in Native American gaming has that impacted. Do you believe gaming in Laughlin Arizona gaming? Absolutely and especially care of California gaming has limited to Indians. However,

16:08 Laughlin hasn't built a new casino since 1990. Why are they were golden one every year and I don't think there's any plan that I know of because of the impact of Nevada state gaming especially California and Arizona you think any time in the future Mohave County or Arizona might loosen their standards and okay gaming what I've read. Yes. I think the Arizona government is going to

16:38 Legalize machines in the bars. They can they can't pay themselves and the regulators and all the government if they don't so I

16:50 I'm not really taking a sound on it. I wouldn't be probably be in favor of it for a for business reasons, but I think it's inevitable.

16:59 Now who you who your friends in the community when you moved her after a while after you've lived here for a while. Did you have any close family friend of your family got friendly with people he hung out with in the in the area in Bullhead City or in the surrounding area. We develop a lot of new friends. I think most of my past away now. I'm just trying to think of some of the people that we one of our employees ran for Sheriff over Mohave County Bill Richardson and was elected and

17:33 Moist came here. There was only one policeman in the whole area the name of the burn for shell for sale for solo at them and he was always a very Cooperative now, they probably replaced him with a hundred people. We had to handle it ourselves and that was

18:02 Taking people to Las Vegas or telling them. We didn't really have any big violent situations fortunately yet.

18:20 Did you call the deputy sheriff? They might not get there for a couple hours. So.

18:34 I'm not certain if I'm right or not. But the road to Laughlin State Route 163 is now a very important Corridor to get people to Laughlin and across the river to Bullhead City. Mohave County didn't used to be two lanes really winding little road and it seems like it got expanded a lot. And now it's a wonderful world. Did you have anything to do with that? Of course, we supported it was a very very dangerous road. There's a lot of bad action that's on it. It was a lot of bad accidents in the in the area getting over the bridge.

19:17 And I know that those roads have been approved improved to for Elaine. It's and there's so much more traffic.

19:26 It's much safer and much more convenient to get to both communities personally, but the only said that you would use a lot of your own funds to help remake them. Why in that road? I remember when they were blasting it out and go we should move down here. Now as soon as they open up the dam Hoover Dam with a new bridge. Do you expect that that's going to have a big impact on

19:59 Bullhead City and the economy here in Laughlin to Hoover Dam Area. Some of them go through needles and up the charts Searchlight, but most of them I have found out that is probably better to come this way and we have parking lots for trucks and I don't have an exact amount that the several hundred trucks for five six hundred bucks a week. We get that one the new dam opens in

20:30 November of 2010 I expect we'll take a pretty good hit not only us but the whole Community benefits from the business for the trucker's a very good very good business might even heard talk about them taking Arizona highway 695 and running that straight down to Las Vegas and bypassing Laughlin and and 95 on the other side in eventuality and being a major truck route and then trucks would never have to come down this area had you heard about that? I have not talked about in Mohave County for while they were going to take the road at

21:13 The turn off Lake Havasu City and extended right down at the base of the mountains are crossed in Arizona all the way up to the point where it goes up over the hill into Golden Valley. No, I have not heard that it it sounds like a possibility though. They've studied and I thought it was going to bypass Bullhead City and of course the bridge into knowing how long it takes that probably won't happen in my lifetime will take quite a while now hobbies and how that's how this living in this area has helped. You pursue your hobbies. What hobbies? Do you have any original layout first for five years? We got no delivery down here. So we have dollar all our own groceries meet beer liquor.

22:11 Everything we needed would have to fly into Vegas to get deliveries didn't start. It'll probably sometime in the early 70s. So I have made as many as three trips a day to Vegas with a plane load come down here on load. Go back. It was only a puppy five six times a week, but I had to haul into supplies cuz we were using

22:37 More supplies and we could we could possibly pick up down here and there's no way to go in Bullhead City then and then pick y'all came to supplying a big restaurants in the in the course of gaming equipment had to be supplied out of Vegas.

22:59 Sometimes I have somebody in Vegas pick up the the items that we need and just meet him at the airport and pressed by the way you were hella fly and then how you learn how to fly a helicopter in the sea or helicopter all around the area you support a lot of local charities and and the vents with donations of your time or helicopter trips. How do you how do you learn to fly a helicopter? That's quite difference in flying airplanes not when I was first down here after about four or five years. I only knew how to fly fixed-wing.

23:39 Travelodge, California bought a helicopter

23:43 And it would hold on. It was the Korean War.

23:48 But really the first successful helicopters, I bought when it has been restored had a guy fly it up here and teach me how to fly it.

23:55 Heather they're completely different than an airplane and

24:00 Then through the years I've actually got in the helicopter business partner in San Diego when we buy and sell helicopters. So I've had it on numerous helicopters did some people think they're just toys but we're in the business never going to find out about that cuz I was going to ask him. What's up. What's the biggest disaster that you've ever seen happen in this area?

24:35 Omaha me I got to think about that. We had used to have some terrible floods. They had no flood control in Arizona. And then when it would it have a big rain 15-20 ft across the highway fortunately. We have the helicopter to get people back and forth across the river which helped a little but in recent years the land wheel on we did do we spent over six million dollars on doing flood control work on that's just across from the bridge in the old off a lot of the rat land, but we had to do flood control before it was available.

25:17 Otherwise the fudge would take out anything built in the area. So we're that that took a couple years to do all the flood control.

25:26 And part of it became Laughlin Ranch

25:30 An adult as we know it today, but that was just a Barren desert.

25:36 Yes, I remember and so brains are a big part of the Assassin how about wins one sounds thunderstorms that is negatively affected your business or certainly we've been washed out lights up. We just we've had the lights go out for 3 days and just run with it.

25:57 Battery power back in the beginning of on the lights to go out. We were the last of the power was operated by California Pacific utility and they covered Searchlight Henderson. And of course when they came down here to fix the lights right to be about three days later, cuz we were the last one to get a hundred and ten in the in the building where we never lose a customer there was nowhere to go.

26:31 70 Moves this area at or at least the part of land that was later named tell me about the story about how it got to be named. I mean why not? Why not choose a different name you had Bullhead City Arizona across the way.

26:52 What why is the name Laughlin right across the river from Bullhead City? I know you own the land, but I took a lot of heat from politicians over this a Postal Inspector came in his first name. His name was O'Neill. And after we were down her a few months, the only male available in Nevada was Searchlight, which is over 40 miles away or Bullhead City. So I suggested that the postal Department in San Francisco the regional office that we needed to post office. So O'Neal showed up looked it over and agreed with me.

27:29 A compilation. What do you mean? He was writing this stuff down. He said what do you want to call it? I don't know call in Bullhead, Nevada, or maybe there's a Jackpot Nevada. What about Casino, Nevada?

27:44 So he kept writing it again and the name came through Laughlin or is she promised that Lachlan?

27:51 A month or two later

27:54 How and when I did see him I said why why did the my name rather than they are suggestions? He said well. Which apartment don't like gambling and

28:09 We don't want to call up to Riverside or Bullhead City cuz a male gets mixed up.

28:15 And without smiling, you said?

28:20 Why not? Lachlan is a good Irish name. That was his answer and that's the end of it and I'm taking a lot of heat over that wasn't your idea how the nation to giving you any problem about. Well as she's our kind of got used to it after 40 something years old has say they were few businesses to remember what was there and and are some people still busy with some of those businesses still there and who ran them and did you have any internet interactions with those people there was a pretty good-sized hardware store ran by mr. Buck.

29:00 Can't think of your first name. He was out early customer and his wife and their four five bars.

29:09 I think I forgot my names of them Brandis and Bullhead Tavern and most of them had a restaurant with them and

29:18 Keetsa medical drugstore. I can't think I Keith last name. He passed away.

29:24 There wasn't a lot here and there's your got farther south there was less and less.

29:29 And everybody know everybody else Lennon people do in Bullhead City down as far as you can discern before you came here and started enforcing them. Like they weren't pushing a lot. Did you ever decide to go fishing now? I'm not a fisherman. We used to go over to Bullhead once in awhile on the door closed gone fishing operations. And that's the way that way they run, you know, when they felt like going fishing. They just locked up and went one way to look at enjoy your life who cares about what happens but they well they like the fish. That's probably why they moved here most of your family grew up here have they all stayed in this area or do they move out of the area? Are they and do they have their own businesses? But can you tell me about I have one show

30:28 Right above the airport Another Sunday on he's up.

30:33 La purchasing director

30:36 Then I have a daughter that I just shouldn't have talked about.

30:41 And your wife

30:46 Separated I think a nineteen seventy-two I shall live locally a lot of different people in this area some real characters from real rough people some funny people some serious people probably some people you'd rather forget about if you were asked to name one person and tell me a little story about the biggest character you've ever come in contact with in this area. Like I said, give me a little story about what makes you think that about this person who is all I got to think about that one for a while.

31:29 I don't want to call anyone that we had a big running argument with her anything. Sometimes when people are drinking they get a little while, but I don't remember any in a real bad stories about the local people could be funny story. So I just make me laugh every time you think about it and there was only one telephone and tell him it was a phone booth outside of the casino called Davis Dam number 2.

32:02 He came in we bought a roll of quarters and I thought he was going to play the machines what you did later, but he said I need to use a telephone.

32:10 And the booth was outside the door and maybe I came in red-faced and he says I don't need the use of telephone that bad and I I said, what's the matter? He said there's a snake in the phone booth. There are a lot of wild creatures out here. If you come into contact with many of them yourself a lot of wild Burros do snakes. Oh, yeah, and someone just said the other day that I saw a black bear in Lake Havasu. It's in the paper today.

32:44 Not necessarily animals right of the people to all sometimes once in awhile to get one and act like an animal except they always they always yell at the top of the boys should each other. You know, I have to work I were her protectors realize your plugs when I go in there cuz I can't stand the volume. It's a little loud for you. But you definitely are all happened after they've got your protectors at slot machines must be one of the greatest things that ever happened to gaming. What what do you think about that? Were you involved and gave me before? So at least I just started out with slot machines. What's your opinion about slot machines versus table get more people play slot machines. They they can play at their own speed until I get acquainted with him. A lot of people even people are electric.

33:45 Are computers by table games? They don't want either don't want to spend the time or they don't have the confidence to play and so they go to the machines and they win a few times and they become accustomed to playing the machines. That's my mother was that way in Minnesota. That's when I was a little kid. That's how I got interested in them. They weren't legal 10 year old kid was watching nobody. Really? I don't think it hurt my ability to be in business lot of people say, well, you got to be a certain age for this in the certain age for that a lots true in some ways but no other way is it I don't agree with it. If you had your say on it, you think there should be some legal gaming age should be lowered to 18 or do you agree that people should be 21

34:45 I should be 18. I've always thought that

34:49 How you're going to go in the join the Army and get killed in their can't vote. You can't you can't have a drink besides it might and drugs might be less tempting if I could buy a beer that's just my opinion. I can solve our opinion that a lot of people looking gaming and passing moral judgment on it and say that it's it's not a good thing. It's it's bad. It is a vice. Of course, you must have a different opinion of that. What what is your opinion on gay me? That's certainly been good to you. Don't like your walk under a beer sign and you shouldn't go in the door. If you don't like drinking beer gaming is the same way. That's a lot of people are educated to be against gaming and probably other

35:41 Nicest guy when they were children, and they maybe they have a

35:48 Spiritual

35:50 Believe that's evil. They shouldn't do it. I think gaming is very good in the long run. There are some bad things that happen very few of its employees an awful lot of people. It's an entertainment business. It's like drinking there's always a low percentage that probably can't govern their ability to gamble or drink, but whether it was legal or not, they they could find it exactly that everybody should be responsible for their own behaviors what you're saying and know their own limits and take responsibility of your life to live over again. Would you be here now why or why not would you have open troll your your glass and you ended up here and the Living Las Vegas new things that happened there that got you here. We got a lot of 16 hour days and 70 weeks, but I enjoyed I enjoy working I would rather be working and screws me.

36:50 I'm not into sports cuz I always work. I'm not opposed Sports and golf and all the things that people do I just don't have any interest in it cuz I was always working. I never learn to learn the games that probably helped me in business Dr. Bullhead City just speculative. I think that the area would have developed on the Nevada side. Maybe not quite as soon but I think somebody would have came in and developed a resort casino business. I think it was inevitable. They still think Amy would have been here. It just wouldn't have been you and it wouldn't have been so soon but certainly the big corporations want to come in and I had our competitors. So when I first bought the place, they'd come down they laugh how you going to get so fly

37:50 Whatever happens happens and other words, I've heard the same before you'd rather be the big fish in a small pond in the small fish in the big pond is a good way to put it and you certainly made a success of it. Mr. Fun. If I could ask you one more question if you could talk to Generations to come.

38:11 And make a statement on what you like to be remembered for a how he liked me remember the type of person you are what was important to you your contribution to society. How would you say?

38:25 Well people tend to say you're lucky. You got a nice car. You got a nice house and my answer always is the harder you work the luckier you'll get I think luck cuz

38:35 You have to use an effort.

38:37 A lot of more effort to use the better your chances are

38:41 So you're responsible for your own destiny that's actual and you buy bunch of big government is not one of my favorite things to talk about. We didn't go there today. I didn't really want to get into a political discussion, but there are some people that's a little bit jealous of your success by believe in the community and to them you'd say what go out work make it yourself. How would you what would you say that? I don't go to work angry people living off the government nowadays if I wasn't able to

39:26 Keep a supply of money way. I don't know what would happen because there's so many different ways that people are there may be entitled to it for Social Security, but there's it's just became

39:38 An ocean of government checks that people at waiting for every month. Maybe it's good. I never got a government check. Believe it more people did what you do? We feel a lot better position today and I'm like I said, certainly glad that you took the time to come down and talk less opportunity now than there was when I started because of all the regulation you have to have a pocket full of money to even get into business right through a very difficult for young people to get started when you did you came here. I'm out. Like I said, you came down here today and donated your time to this project is going to be something that people in years to come will listen to and hopefully give them a little encouragement to go out and work hard and be masters of their own fate. Thank you again. Mr. Laughlin.

40:38 Coming down and talking with us today. Thank you very much for the opportunity. You're welcome.