Media from across the US is reporting the death at age 96 of John Ascuaga, an “icon of gaming in northern Nevada”, who bought the small Sparks Nugget coffee shop in 1960, with 60 seats and “a few slot machines,” and turned it into a large hotel-casino he personally ran for over half a century.

His management turned that café into one of the largest hotels in northern Nevada, with more than 1,600 rooms, 75,000 sqft of casino, and more than 110,000 sqft of convention space.  It was called John Ascuaga’s Nugget until it was sold to Global Gaming and Hospitality in 2013.

John Ascuaga's Nugget
John Ascuaga’s Nugget

Media and even the governor of Nevada himself have released statements highlighting not only his business acumen and philanthropy, but also his Basque origins.

His father, José Ascuaga, came to Nevada to become a sheepherder in 1914; his wife, Marina Equiluz, joined him two years later.  John was born on January 7, 1925.  Both he and his siblings (his twin sister Rosa “Rosie” Mary Ascuaga passed away in 2018) all received university educations.  He attended the University of Idaho and Washington State, majoring in accounting and restaurant management.  While studying, he worked as a bellman.

For over half a century, Ascuaga was also the owner of Jack’s Valley Ranch, a 1200-acre property that has been in operation since before Nevada became the 36th state in 1864.  The State and Federal Governments have purchased a conservation easement to guarantee that the property will continue to be “managed in an ecologically and economically sustainable way in perpetuity”.

El rancho Jack's Valley propiedad desde hace 50 años de John Ascuaga - imagen - Brian Bahouth.
Jack’s Valley Ranch, owned by John Ascuaga for over 50 years—photo: Brian Bahouth.

As an anecdote, Mr. Ascuaga’s ranch is just down the road from where our English-language editor, John R. Bopp, grew up.

Goian Bego

KTNV – 28/6/2021  -USA

Prominent Local Businessman John Ascuaga Dies at 96

Local prominent businessman John Ascuaga has passed away. He was 96. Sparks Mayor Lawson mentioned Ascuaga’s death at the beginning of Monday’s Sparks City Council meeting. We reached out to the family and the Nugget Casino for comment. Dick Graves opened The Sparks Nugget on March 17, 1955 as a 60-seat coffee shop with a handful of slot machines.

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Reno Gazette Journal – 28/6/2021  -USA

Nugget patriarch John Ascuaga dies at age 96

John Ascuaga, the man who built John Ascuaga’s Nugget into one of the premiere hotel-casinos in Reno-Sparks, has died. He was 96 years old. Ascuaga served in the U.S. Army in his youth, receiving an honorable discharge, according to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Business Hall of Fame. He then went to college at the University of Idaho and Washington State University, where he got degrees in accounting and hotel and restaurant management, respectively. While attending college, he served as a bellman at an Idaho lodge, kicking off a career in the resort industry.

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Miami Herald -30/6/2021 – USA

Northern Nevada gambling icon John Ascuaga dies at age 96

John Ascuaga, the son of Basque sheepherders who became a northern Nevada gambling icon after he bought a small coffee shop with a few slot machines in Sparks in 1960 and turned it into a major hotel-casino he operated for more than a half century, has died. He was 96.

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Header photo: John Ascuaga and his children Michonne and Stephen