January – February 2017
For 60 years, John Ascuaga could often be seen walking the casino floor of his namesake hotel-casino in Sparks. John Ascuaga’s Nugget became an anchor of the city, and one of its most fervent supporters. Our Carrie Roussel recently spoke to Mr. Ascuaga.
Question: Where were you born? Where do you live now?
John Ascuaga: I was born in Caldwell, Idaho, and I now live at Jacks Valley Ranch in Carson Valley. It’s one of the most historic ranches in the area. We bought it 50 years ago and have lived there ever since.
Question: How did you get started in the casino business?
John Ascuaga: I worked for a guy named Dick Graves when I was just coming out of Washington State as a hotel/motel major. He had seven bars and restaurants across Idaho with slot machines, so I’d travel to all of them. Gambling was outlawed in Idaho, though, and Dick had visions of Nevada slots. I was with him when he started the Carson City Nugget. I was the food supervisor at the Carson City Nugget when it opened. Dick also owned the Sparks Nugget. We built it together. I remember we’d walk on B Street, which is now Victorian Avenue, and Dick was 6 feet 5 inches tall and I was 5 foot 4 inches…we were quite the couple. I have so many great memories of how we promoted stuff to get the energy back into the city of Sparks. March 17, 1955 was the day we started. It was a great foundation of good employees. They were the best.
Question: What’s your favorite thing about living in Nevada?
John Ascuaga: The people. They feel like they’re still embedded in our state; that a handshake really means something.
Question: Do you have favorite Nevada memory?
John Ascuaga: I have so many I can’t even tell you. The day we opened until I retired; I feel like it is one great memory.
Question: Who do you consider to be a notable Nevadan? Why?
John Ascuaga: I’ve never given it much thought. You’ve just got to have a conscience, and you know what’s fair. You have to be yourself and if you have a goal, you try to reach it. We’ve had some really great political leaders: Carl Dodge, Lawrence Jacobsen, and Mahlon Brown. They were heavyweight senators from both parties and they were always able to solve problems. They looked to solve problems, and forgot their party.
Question: What does being Battle Born mean to you?
John Ascuaga: 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.