Early gamble pays off
By Bob Retzlaff
Don Laughlin wryly recalls his days as a ninth-grader at Owatonna High School.
It was in the mid-1940s and he already had started his gambling career by buying and selling slot machines. Gambling was legal in Minnesota, and he made money by purchasing the one-armed bandits from mail-order catalogs and then re-selling them to local bars.
"But the school administration didn't like it," Laughlin said. "The principal gave me an ultimatum. He told me either to quit selling or quit school. I told him I was making more money ($500 a week) then he was, so the decision was easy for me and I quit school."
With gambling in his blood, he moved to Las Vegas in the early 1950s, working as a bartender by day and attending card and dice dealers school at night. In 1954, he bought his own gaming operation, the 101 Club in North Las Vegas, with $35,000 that he had saved. Ten years later, he sold it for $165,000.
Fresh from that experience, he began scouting the rugged Mohave desert in his private plane, and a Colorado River stretch called Tri-State caught his attention. The area was vacant save for a bankrupt saloon and boarded-up, eight-room motel. Two years later, he paid $235,000 for the motel and six acres of riverfront property, and in 1966 opened his Riverside Resort.
And the rest is history.