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John Ascuaga Discusses Nugget Sale, Life Lessons

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John Ascuaga is selling the Nugget after 58 years of running the family-owned business.

There's a reason they call it "John Ascuaga's" Nugget. He's an integral part of the now famous Sparks hotel-casino.

Mr. A - as he's known - is a familiar face to customers and employees.

"Why do you walk around greeting customers individually?" asks reporter Jennifer Burton.

"Because I love 'em. They mean a great deal. I don't know it's probably part of my make-up."

John Ascuaga knows many of his employees by their first names. Some employees have worked at the Nugget for decades like Ruthie Jensen who received her 45 year pin from John Ascuaga himself.

Employees may start in the kitchen, or busing tables, but they can make their way up the ladder. "Many of them-- their daughters and sons are going to UNR and graduating."

Ascuaga remembers when the showroom used to feature big name acts including an elephant named Bertha. "She was so good. Can you imagine 40 some years and never missed a night."

One of his favorites is giving scholarships to local high school students so they can attend college. "I can't believe we've given over 700 scholarships - and it's so great."

Ascuaga took a small coffee shop and put Sparks, Nevada on the map. Had some great mentors, but he built most of this on his own. "There's no better teacher than experience."

Last week the Ascuaga family announced the casino would be sold to Global Gaming & Hospitality. Financial terms were not disclosed, and the sale still requires regulatory approval by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the Nevada Gaming Commission and is expected be completed by the New Year. The Ascuaga family will remain in a leadership role through the transition. Once the sale is complete, John Ascuaga will be Chairman Emeritus. Michonne Ascuaga and Stephen Ascuaga, COO, will assume advisory roles.

The new owners expect to invest $50 million in the property over the next few years. GGH's improvement plans for the Nugget include renovating and updating the casino floor, hotel rooms, restaurants, convention space and exterior. Capital plans include spending about $20 million over the first two years in new slot equipment, renovating restaurants, substantial casino and public area refurbishment and room renovation, among other upgrades.

Dick Graves opened The Sparks Nugget on March 17, 1955 as a 60-seat coffee shop with a handful of slot machines. John Ascuaga, then general manager, purchased the Sparks Nugget in 1960 for $3.775 million on a handshake. Under John and two of his children, Michonne and Stephen's, leadership, the Nugget has grown into one of the largest Northern Nevada hotel casinos with over 1600 hotel rooms, 75,000 square feet of casino gaming, 110,000 square feet of convention space, nine restaurants, a sports book, bingo parlor, poker room, a unique indoor/outdoor swimming pool, wedding chapel, salon and spa, arcade, a cabaret, the legendary 700-seat Celebrity Showroom and more.

Written by Jennifer Burton

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