ohn Ascuaga, the man who built John Ascuaga’s Nugget into one of the premiere hotel-casinos in Reno-Sparks, has died at the age of 96.
While attending college, he served as a bellman at an Idaho lodge. When he moved to Sparks he met Idaho native and gaming pioneer Dick Graves, who owned Dick Graves’ Nugget in Sparks. Back then, the Nugget was just a coffee shop that had a few slot machines, according to Reno Gazette Journal.
Ascuaga would eventually take over the Nugget after Graves retired in 1960. He would turn the Nugget into a major hotel-casino in the coming decades along with his wife Rose Louis.
Ascuaga was known for roaming the casino floor and greeting patrons personally at the Nugget that bore his name along U.S. Interstate 80 just east of Reno until it first was sold in 2013. Anthony Marnell III, CEO of Marnell Gaming which acquired the property now called the Nugget Casino Resort in 2016, said Ascuaga’s family notified them of his death on Monday. The cause of death was not disclosed, the Associated Press reports.
Donald Abbott Sparks City Councilman noted: “He employed many of my friends over the years. Sometimes it was their first job. I remember growing up here in Sparks and seeing John wandering the casino floors and he would engage with you and have a conversation with you.
Christine Johnson, executive director at Sparks Heritage Museum noted: “Historically, the Ascuaga family, for more than half a century, has been a huge contributor to the feeling of family and belonging that Sparks is known for, and John Ascuaga was at the heart of that. So much of what Sparks does today with the downtown events, the Ascuaga family supported that and started that. He will be greatly missed in this community and was a big impact on gaming and how we think of gaming today.”
John Farahi, CEO and co-chairman of Atlantis parent company Monarch Casino and Resort, lauded Ascuaga’s efforts to elevate the entire Northern Nevada gaming industry. Farahi remembers Ascuaga working tirelessly with Nevada’s congressional delegation to improve the Interstate-80 corridor between Reno and Sacramento.
Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine said in a statement: “His name is synonymous with Sparks and Northern Nevada as he was a driving force in the gaming resort-hotel industry's evolution and expansion. Mr. Ascuaga will always be remembered as one of Nevada's visionary industry leaders and will be greatly missed.”
Truckee Gaming CEO Ferenc Szony, who used to be Sands Regency CEO and was also an executive for the former Reno Hilton, remembered one time during his stint as president of the former Reno Hilton when one of his casino hosts moved to the Nugget. After the host started contacting Hilton guests, Szony’s advisers wanted to threaten legal action.
Szony called Ascuaga. “I told John that I just needed to let him know what was going on and asked him, ‘What do you want to do?’” Szony said. “He said, ‘You don’t have to worry about anything son, I’ll take care of it.’ He took care of it the very next day.”