Sparks Nugget gets new owners again

Sparks Nugget
Sparks Nugget(KOLO)
Published: Feb. 11, 2016 at 6:25 PM PST
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Nearly 11 years ago as John Ascuaga marked the 50th anniversary of the Nugget, he could look back on decades of changes which led a small coffee shop across B Street to become a major hotel casino.

"Who would have thought?," he said at the time. "Someone asked me about the future and I said I hope it's as good as the past because I see a great future here in Sparks."

But the years just ahead brought the Great Recession instead.

Gaming was hit hard. The Nugget needed reinvestment, renovation and something Ascuaga always looked for--change--to remain competitive. Unfortunately the capital just wasn't there. So, in 2013, the Ascuaga family sold to a private investor group, Global Gaming and Hospitality.

They brought an infusion of cash. Paint and carpeting certainly, but changes were made as well. A Gilley's cowboy bar and barbeque was added, along with a new sportsbook. The economy picked up and along with the rest of the northern Nevada gaming industry, the Nugget recovered.

Nugget President Carlton Geer points to a chart showing the decline during the recession bottoming and then the recovery.

"I'm proud we've been able to take the Nugget and make it a sustainable property and retain the traditions of the property."

Geer says the company intended to stay in gaming, perhaps add other properties. But then came an unsolicited offer from Marnell Gaming.

"We were looking around for properties that may be a good fit for us and the Nugget just kept coming up," says CEO Anthony Marnell III. "The Nugget was a perfect opportunity."

Like the Ascuagas, the Marnell company is a family group with a long history in Nevada gaming, all of it in the south. They currently own two properties in Laughlin, the Edgewater and the Colorado Belle.

Marnell notes after years of flat revenues, northern Nevada gaming has been leading the state and with a diversifying economy, and he sees good times ahead.

During his ownership Ascuaga was known for his frequent walks around the property, talking with customers and employees. It wasn't just public relations. It was his manaqement style. He was listening.

Marnell says he plans to do the same.

"I've made the mistakes of going into markets and you think you know what you should do and where you should take the property," he says.

"I think God gave you two ears and a mouth for a reason. So, we're going to listen to the community. We're going to learn from the team and the customers and we're going to take it slow and be cautious and do good things every step of the way."

And, he says, employees should expect no sudden changes either.

"We're taking all the employees on day one. Everybody will keep their hire dates. They'll keep their benefits. They'll have substantially similar health insurance to what they have today, no waiting period. Team members are the greatest asset and we don't want them interrupted at all."

The sale must still be approved by state gaming officials. That's expected to happen sometime in the second quarter of the year.