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Casino pioneer John Ascuaga has died at 96

By Jeri Chadwell

John Ascuaga, famed Nevada entrepreneur and former owner of John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, has died.

The announcement was made by Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson shortly before the beginning of today’s Sparks City Council meeting.

Ascuaga was 96. He was born in Caldwell, Idaho, in 1925.

Ascuaga lived for more than half a century at Jacks Valley Ranch in Carson Valley while he was owner of the casino, which he helped to build in the 1950s prior to purchasing it himself in 1960.

The casino was originally owned by Dick Graves, for whom Ascuaga worked. Graves owned more than half a dozen bars and restaurants with slot machines in them across Idaho until gambling was outlawed there. It was then he turned his attention to Nevada and opened the Carson City Nugget and the Sparks Nugget café with Ascuaga at his side as food supervisor.

Ascuaga was the son of an immigrant Basque sheepherder and served in the United States Army prior to going to college. He attended the University of Idaho for his bachelor’s degree in accounting and then went to Washington State University for an additional bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management.

It was in the Nugget’s Steak House that Ascuaga met Rose Ardans, his future wife. The two worked together to build John Ascuaga’s Nugget into a major resort destination. Over the years, their children–Camille, Michonne, John and Stephen–have also played a large part in helping the resort casino grow into a more than 1,500-room hotel, with eight restaurants, 84,000 square feet of gambling floors and 110,000 square feet of convention space.

For more than a half-century, John Ascuaga and the Nugget awarded college scholarships to support local students seeking higher education. The Nugget Scholarship Awards inducted the top performing high school students in northern Nevada into a Hall of Fame that could be viewed just off the lobby of the hotel.

The Ascuaga family sold the Nugget Casino Resort in 2013 to Global Gaming and Hospitality.

Ascuaga told Nevada Magazine during a 2017 interview that his favorite part of living in Nevada was the people.

“They feel like they’re still embedded in our state; that a handshake really means something,” he said.

On the meaning of being Battle Born he said, “You’ve got to have some true grit. Never take no for starters. If you have a goal, think positive and you’ll fulfill it.”

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