New Nugget owners applying their own take on iconic Sparks resort
Nugget Casino Resort:
A time line
1955: Dick Graves opens Dick Graves’ Nugget in Sparks.
1960: John Ascuaga buys Dick Graves’ Nugget and renames it John Ascuaga’s Nugget. The Ascuaga family would own and operate the property until 2013.
1989: The Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff begins.
1996: The Nugget’s West Tower opens with approximately 800 guest rooms.
Oct. 2013: Global Gaming & Hospitality, headed by Carlton Geer, along with Husky Finance, purchases John Ascuaga’s Nugget.
Feb. 2015: The property’s is officially renamed the Nugget Casino Resort.
Late 2015: The Nugget undergoes a $50 million renovation, including introducing a new race and sports book and a new nightclub, Gilley’s.
May 2016: Marnell Gaming acquires the Nugget.
Jan. 2017: Marnell Gaming announces a $25 million upgrade project to the Nugget, including renovations to the West Tower and convention center.
For longtime employees like Randy Kennedy, the interior of the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks now looks dramatically different.
That’s because the Nugget’s new owner, Marnell Gaming, led by Anthony Marnell III, has undertaken an aggressive $25 million makeover of the iconic Sparks property that dates to the 1950s.
Kennedy, who serves as director of marketing communications for the Nugget and has worked at the property continuously since 2001, said the new owners wanted to put their own stamp on the property without completely erasing semblances of its rich history, mostly under longtime former owner John Ascuaga.
“The thing that attracted Marnell to the Nugget is that it has really good bones,” Kennedy said. “It’s a good structure, and they had a vision for what it could become, and in short order they’ve turned it into that vision.”
The latest addition in the project is a new sports bar called “Game On!” with an open, airy décor. It’s situated in the space previously occupied by Gilley’s, a western-themed nightclub developed under former owner Global Gaming and Hospitality, which acquired the twin 29-story tower complex from Ascuaga in 2013 and then sold the resort to Marnell Gaming in 2016.
“We could’ve continued with Gilley’s, but this was a new way to showcase something a little different and revitalize the space,” Kennedy said. “The intention was to make it a broad appeal and the sports market is something everyone is familiar with.”
The sports bar features 52 big-screen televisions along with two bars that serve a variety of beers on tap, including a few locally made brews. The venue’s entrance also features an electronic ticker tape, with real-time sports scores and stats scrolling across a screen for fantasy sports enthusiasts.
Game On! opened in early September, in time for the Annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff and the start of football season and Major League Baseball’s playoffs.
The Nugget will have local music DJs working weekends after sporting events are completed up until the venue closes for the night.
Game On! also has the capability to be multifunctional where it can host special events or serve as a meeting place. It will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, in part because it needs to be fully staffed during peak times on weekends. Plus, Kennedy said, weekdays are usually slower for sporting event viewership.
The new concept comes on the heels of other major renovation projects at the Nugget.
Marnell Gaming has renovated the West Tower, covering approximately 800 guest rooms, to give a modern cabin feel with earth tones and complementary colors. A part of the remodel included bringing in all-new furniture, fixtures and lighting.
The resort’s 110,000-square-foot convention center also underwent a $2 million renovation right down to replacing kitchen equipment, along with all new tables, chairs, silverware and even tablecloths.
Other smaller projects have taken shape, too. Poolside Terrace, a meeting and convention space on the fifth floor, was renovated and renamed Chalet Terrace Meeting Room. The adjacent fitness center was expanded while all-new exercise equipment was installed. The fitness center was expanded after the former Michonne’s Salon, named for Michonne Ascuaga, daughter of John Ascuaga, was demolished.
The current round of renovation is nearing completion. Last week, a crew from the resort’s engineering department were busy repainting and replacing wallpaper to reflect the new earth tone concept at the Nugget’s ground-floor northeast entrance next to the Celebrity Showroom.
Overseeing the multi-million-dollar project is Dianda Construction of Reno.
In announcing the renovations last winter, Anthony Marnell III said in a statement, “Completely remodeling the West Tower rooms and convention center reflects our commitment to making the property a market leader, and this is just the beginning of the Nugget makeover – there will be much more to come toward the end of 2017 and into 2018.”
Still more renovation projects are in the works. The basement, which once housed the old race and sports book, deli and gift shop, will soon feature a new steak house scheduled to open in early spring 2018.
“A lot of people have been asking us what we are going to do with that space, and I think they’ll be pleased to see what we came up with down there,” Kennedy said.
The front desk area will also be remodeled with work commencing most likely after the upcoming holiday season.
The Nugget, which boasts 1,400 guest rooms, 10 restaurants and 110,000 square feet of meeting space, has been in existence since the mid-1950s when it was founded by Dick Graves. Ascuaga purchased the property several years later and operated the hotel-casino along with his family for more than five decades.
Closures of businesses that have long reigned in communities, such as the Santa Fe Basque restaurant and the Awful Awful Burger in Reno, have caused sadness among community members who grew up patronizing the establishments. The Nevada Independent reports.