Walking through the executive offices at the El Cortez in Downtown Las Vegas, Alex Epstein is at once right at home and out of place. Epstein grew up in the gaming business, so this place, at 70 years likely the oldest casino in Las Vegas, is like her second home. But her youth and demeanor might be more at home further south on the Las Vegas Strip. It’s a trip Epstein refuses to take.
The daughter of longtime Las Vegas casino executive and owner Kenny Epstein, who himself is a protégé of the legendary Jackie Gaughan—who, at 90 years old, still lives at the El Cortez—Alex Epstein has immense pride in what has been accomplished at the property over the past few years. And to paraphrase an infamous saying, “it’s not your father’s El Cortez anymore.”
But her career path was not one taken by a traditional Las Vegas casino executive. After graduating high school in Las Vegas, Epstein embarked for the big city, attending Columbia University in New York and majoring in art history and French (with some business courses at NYU). While she would return to Las Vegas during the summer, it wasn’t until she graduated that she thought of a career at the El Cortez. She began graduate courses in all the hotel’s departments.
“I really liked working in housekeeping, as much as I wouldn’t have expected that,” she says. “But I’m detailed-oriented, so I wanted to make sure all the beds were made correctly, and I love the people in that department.”
As executive manager, Epstein’s scope is wide and varied.
“I’m in charge of all the marketing at the property from new media to print advertising,” she says. “I’m also responsible for all the special projects, from the Cabana Suites to community involvement.”
One of her first major projects was the conversion of a nearby hotel into the Cabana Suites, a 64-room boutique hotel.
“From 103 rooms, we completely gutted the property and redesigned it,” she says. “From wider hallways to luxury bathrooms, it is an entirely new facility that is very popular with our regular customers.”
And Epstein is very conscious of the longtime customers.
“We designed a new logo with a stylized ‘E-C’ and showed it to our regulars,” she says. “But they said we never called it that, and they didn’t like it, so we scrapped it.”
It’s her community responsibilities that really strike a chord with Epstein, especially with her New York City experience.
“What’s so exciting about Las Vegas is that we’re still shaping it,” she explains. “New York City is fully built out and people are enjoying the fruits of their labors. Here, we’re just getting started and I love playing a part in that.”
Only 10 years ago, the El Cortez was in a part of Downtown Las Vegas that had deteriorated and was surrounded by seedy motels, hookers and vagrants. But through the efforts of local businesses and Mayor Oscar Goodman, the Fremont East part of Downtown now hosts trendy restaurants, nightclubs and even galleries. And the El Cortez is the glue that holds it all together.
“It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had working here,” she says. “We’ve gone from empty storefronts to a vibrant community.”