Favorite area guy with a city named after him
By Steve Lange
In 1966, Owatonna-born Don Laughlin bought an eight-room motel and bankrupt bar on a dirt road 20 miles from nowhere. Today, his 1,500- room hotel/casino (Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort) anchors a desert gambling town that draws five million annual tourists.
As a 14-year-old, Don Laughlin spent the winter of 1945 trapping mink (at $20-$40 per pelt) and bought a slot machine for $75. “I had a friend with a store in Merton [near Owatonna], and finally I put it in there,” Laughlin told us in a previous interview. “Pretty soon I was running 15 or 16 slots. I was 15 years old and making $500 a week. Then my principal called me in and said ‘Get out of the slots or get out of school.’ I told him, ‘I’m already making twice as much money as you are.’ And that was it for school.”
In 1952, Laughlin and his then-wife Betty moved to Las Vegas. Don bartended and went to dealer school at night. In 1966, he made an offer on an eight-room motel/casino and a bankrupt bar in a place without a name at the southern tip of Nevada. The post office named the place Laughlin.