John Ascuaga, Northern Nevada’s “Mainstay” of Gaming, Dies at 96

Northern Nevada casino owner John Ascuaga didn’t let the expansion of Interstate 80 hamper plans to grow his Nugget casino in downtown Sparks during the 1970s.

He just built the casino under the main thoroughfare that connects northern Nevada to northern California. The pillars that support the highway have been incorporated into the Nugget casino area.

Ascuaga, who died on Monday at the age of 96, was himself recalled by Reno-based gaming analyst Ken Adams as “a mainstay” of the northern Nevada gaming community.

“Nothing in northern Nevada has happened without John being involved,” Adams said. “John has always supported the community and the driving force behind everything that happened east of Reno, but also everything that happened in Reno.”

Adams gave Ascuaga credit for hosting many entertainment events in Sparks, such as Reno’s “Hot August Nights”.

John Ascuaga, developer of Nugget in Sparks, passed away on June 28, 2021 at the age of 96. (Courtesy photo)

Ascuaga acquired the debut of what became 1,382-room John Ascuaga’s Nugget in 1960 for $ 3.775 million. The property was a 60-seat cafe with a few slot machines, owned by Dick Graves, an Idaho hotel builder who is credited with developing the small Nugget casinos in Reno, Carson City and Yerrington.

Ascuaga, who worked for Graves as a cook after moving to northern Nevada from Idaho, acquired the casino with his cash, according to Adams.

“Dick also owned the Sparks Nugget. We built it together, ”Ascuaga recalled in a 2017 interview with Nevada Review. “I remember we were walking on B Street, which is now Victorian Avenue, and Dick was 6ft 5in and I was 5ft 4in… we were quite a couple.”

He expanded the property into one of the largest casinos in northern Nevada, with 75,000 square feet of gaming space, 110,000 square feet of meeting space, nine restaurants, a 700-seat showroom. and other amenities. John’s Oyster Bar remains one of the Nugget’s iconic restaurants.

Some of the growth has been negotiated with federal and state road services for a long-term lease using land under I-80 for nugget expansion.

“John was one of those hands-on casino operators who knew all of his customers and employees,” Adams said.

After her retirement, her daughter Michonne Ascuaga served as CEO of the property and her brother, Stephen Ascuaga, was COO.

The Ascuaga family sold the property in 2013 to an investment group, which then sold the property in 2016 to Las Vegas-based Marnell Gaming. The company has since improved and expanded the property, including the addition of an outdoor events center.

“We are truly saddened to learn of the passing of John Ascuaga and our sincere condolences go out to his family and to all members of the community who knew him and benefited from his impact,” said Anthony Marnell III, CEO of Marnell Gaming, in a statement. “John was not only an icon in northern Nevada and throughout the region, he was also one of the true pioneers of gaming in Nevada and helped shape the direction of the entire state. “

Marnell called Ascuaga a “tireless community philanthropist who has given generously to northern Nevada graduates through the Nugget scholarship program.”

Ascuaga has also partnered with the St. Vincent Dining Room to feed the homeless every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and has supported charities and fundraising events in Nevada and several western states. .

In a statement, Governor Steve Sisolak said Ascuaga had turned the Nugget into “a family gaming juggernaut for over 50 years.”

Sisolak said the Ascuaga family were “facilities” both in the game and in northern Nevada.

“John paced the casino every day and went into restaurants to visit tourists and employees,” Sisolak said. “Whether it was scholarships, countless fundraisers or special events, they made sure John Ascuaga’s Nugget was there to help them.

Washoe County Commission Chairman Bob Lucey said Ascuaga was “an iconic figure in our community” who was dedicated to public service and was a strong advocate for higher education for local students.

“He was one of the pioneers of the resort and hospitality industry in northern Nevada, turning a small cafe into one of Reno-Sparks’ largest resort properties,” said Lucey. “Her vision has helped make Truckee Meadows the vibrant destination we call home. “

Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson announced Ascuaga’s passing ahead of Monday’s city council meeting.

“To say that Mr. Ascuaga was an integral part of Sparks is an understatement,” Lawson said in a statement. “He was, without a doubt, one of Nevada’s most prominent and successful businessmen who really helped shape our city.”

Ascuaga was inducted into the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame in 1992.

In an interview with Nevada ReviewAscuaga was once asked what the state’s “Battle Born” character meant to him.

“You must have courage. Never take no to begin with. If you have a goal, think positive and you will achieve it, ”Ascuaga said.

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