November – December 2019
Casinos rock the value of a wild west namesake.
BY MEGG MUELLER
Anyone traveling through Nevada may have noticed a common occurrence beyond the majestic mountains, stunning views, and neon lights. For frequent travelers of the Silver State, there’s another sign you’re in Nevada: seeing a casino with the word nugget in the name.
There are 13 casinos across the state that use the word nugget in their name. The word gold appears in the name of 12 casinos (15, if you include golden), so clearly, the idea of paying homage to Nevada’s mining history was a no-brainer for many casino owners. And while the names might be the same, each Nevada nugget has its own story.
1. GOLDEN NUGGET LAS VEGAS
One of the oldest casinos still in operation across the state, The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas was opened in 1946 by mobster Guy McAfee. Known as the Golden Nugget Saloon when it opened, it was the first structure in Vegas to be built intentionally as a casino. In 1973, Steve Wynn took over and added two hotel towers, one in 1977 and the other in 1984. The renovations have continued, and today the property is an anchor of Downtown Las Vegas. Make sure to find the world’s biggest golden nugget in existence—and the biggest found with a metal detector—tucked away in the casino. Found in Australia, the “Hand of Faith” is almost 61 pounds and was bought by the Golden Nugget for more than 1 million dollars.
Golden Nugget Las Vegas
129 Fremont St.
Las Vegas, NV 89101
2. GOLDEN NUGGET LAUGHLIN
Laughlin’s Golden Nugget began life in 1968 when it was opened as the Bobcat, the second casino in the new town. It changed hands a few times, and in 1988, Mirage Resorts bought the property and renamed it the Golden Nugget. In 2005, Landry’s Restaurant, Inc., became the owner of both Golden Nuggets, and the Laughlin property has seen a property-wide renovation.
Golden Nugget Laughlin
2300 S. Casino Dr.
Laughlin, NV 89029
3. JERRY’S NUGGET CASINO
Jerry’s Nugget Casino opened in 1964 when owners Jerry Stamis and Jerry Lodge purchased the Town House Bar in North Las Vegas and converted it to an 80-by-80-foot casino. In 1968, the owners bought their nearest competitor, the Bonanza Club, and added an additional 10,000 square feet. Jerry’s was one of the first casinos to cater to the local market, and it maintains that focus today.
Jerry’s Nugget Casino
1821 Las Vegas Blvd. N.
North Las Vegas, NV 89030
4. SILVER NUGGET CASINO & EVENT CENTER
The Silver Nugget Casino in North Las Vegas was built in 1964 and still exudes a classic Las Vegas vibe. In 1966, the Silver Nugget was one of the first casinos in Las Vegas to have female card dealers. Today the casino offers gaming, a sports book, bowling, live entertainment with a focus on Mexican music, and monthly rodeo events.
Silver Nugget Casino & Events Center
2140 Las Vegas Blvd. N.
North Las Vegas, NV 89030
5. PAHRUMP NUGGET HOTEL AND CASINO
In 1959, the site of the Pahrump Nugget was occupied by a cotton gin from the Pahrump Ranch. Owned by Golden Entertainment since 2006, it has the largest sportsbook in Pahrump, and is the town’s only AAA 3 Diamond-rated hotel.
Pahrump Nugget Hotel and Casino
681 State Route 160
Pahrump, NV, 89048
6. WENDOVER NUGGET HOTEL AND CASINO
The Wendover Nugget began life in 1931, when William Smith took advantage of the newly passed bill that made gambling legal in the state and added a casino to his service station, calling it the Stateline Casino. The casino changed hands over the years, even closing in 1982 before being reopened three years later. In 2002, new owners renamed it the Stateline Nugget, and in 2004, it took its current name. Wendover Will—the 63-foot-tall neon cowboy sign that greets visitors to Wendover—originally stood at the Stateline Casino where it debuted in 1952. It was donated to the city when the property became the Wendover Nugget.
Wendover Nugget Hotel and Casino
101 Wendover Blvd.
West Wendover, NV 89883
7. JIM KELLEY’S TAHOE NUGGET
Jim Kelley opened the Tahoe Nugget in Crystal Bay back in 1962 and it remains one of the oldest family-owned casinos in Nevada. Kelley’s sons Jim and Jeff now run the property. The original building was destroyed by a fire in 1978, but a new building soon replaced it. Northern Nevada’s famous Awful Awful hamburger can be found here (see sidebar on page 42). The casino features about 120 of the latest slot and gaming machines and has a poker room.
Jim Kelley’s Tahoe Nugget
20 State Route 28,
Crystal Bay, NV 89402
8. FERNLEY NUGGET
One of the more recent nuggets, the Fernley Nugget opened in 2008 and was the first Nevada casino built specifically with no smoking allowed. Located in the small northwestern town of Fernley, the non-smoking choice seemed surprising but was based on what the owners saw was a unique business opportunity. It has proved a successful venture.
190 East Main St.
Fernley, NV 89408
9. FALLON NUGGET
First opened in 1962 by Otto Louf, the Fallon Nugget was a small casino, 3,000 square feet, with one table and just 19 slot machines. In 1966, the property grew when Louf purchased the bankrupt Pastime Club next door, and then in 1969, Louf purchased another bankrupt property, the Palace Club. The large Nugget sign on the building—installed in 1973—hides the facades of the properties Louf bought. The interior walls were removed to make room for the casino floor. Louf sold the property to his son in the late 1970s, and today it is owned by Nugget Casinos, which owns 13 properties across northern Nevada including the Fernley Nugget.
70 S. Main St.
Fallon, NV 89406
10. SILVER SPRINGS NUGGET
Also owned by Nugget Casinos, the Silver Springs Nugget opened in 2001, making it the second casino in the small town. The property started with 100 machines and a restaurant and still caters to a mostly local clientele.
Silver Springs Nugget
1280 U.S. Route 95A N.
Silver Springs, NV
11. CARSON NUGGET
Dick Graves opened the Carson Nugget in March 1954, and it was one of the most prosperous casinos of the day. Graves sold the property to the Adams family in 1985, and it remained with them until they sold it in 2015 to Dean DiLullo. DiLullo has renovated the property, adding a coffee and wine bar, Italian bistro, and a James Bond-themed vodka bar along with a comedy club drawing headliner entertainment. The eighth and final Batmobile replica is on display at the casino and it makes an appearance during Carson City’s annual Nevada Day parade. The Carson Nugget serves as the backdrop for the TV show and subsequent film “Casino Boss.” DiLullo wrote the scripts for a show based on the life of a casino owner and actual experiences he’s had in the business. “Saturday Night Live” alum Joe Piscopo plays the lead character, and the film will debut at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Future episodes will also be filmed at the casino.
501 N. Carson St.
Carson City, NV 89701
12. NEVADA NUGGET, DAYTON
The Nevada Nugget has been catering to the entertainment needs of one of Nevada’s oldest communities since 2007. Carson Nugget owner Dean DiLullo bought the small property in September 2018, and has been slowly upping the offerings. The small location can grow in size, and DiLullo plans on doubling the amount of slot machines next year. It already includes a sports bar with big-screen TVs, and serves the Carson Nugget’s famous chili.
6 Retail Road
Dayton, NV 89403
13. Nugget Casino Resort, Sparks
The Nugget in Sparks opened in 1955 as a coffee shop with a few slot machines, the vision of Dick Graves, who had just opened the Reno Nugget. In 1958, Graves opened a new restaurant, The Golden Rooster, and to commemorate the occasion, he commissioned a 14-pound gold statue of the eatery’s namesake. The government confiscated the bird in 1960, however, for violating a 1933 law that made it illegal for Americans to own any gold except jewelry and dental fillings. A young Paul Laxalt fought the government’s case, and the bird was released two years after its incarceration. The golden rooster was returned to his place of honor.
John Ascuaga bought the casino from his boss in 1960, and ran it for five decades before it was sold in 2013. Ascuaga sold the rooster at auction in 2014 for $234,000. Marnell Gaming, LLC now owns the property.
Nugget Casino Resort
1100 Nugget Ave.
Sparks, NV 89431
An Awfully Tasty Battle
The debate about the origin of the Awful Awful will likely rage as long as there are staunch supporters of northern Nevada’s famous burger. What is known is the sandwich—as it was known at the time—was offered at the Carson Nugget as early as March 1954. An advertisement for the new casino in a newspaper from the day shows the price of the double-patty colossus was just 55 cents. The recipe most certainly came to Nevada with Dick Graves and Jim Kelley, who it’s said served it in his Idaho properties. When the pair bought The Nugget Casino in downtown Reno in 1954, it was also on the menu, as it was at Kelley’s Tahoe Nugget when he opened that property. Not surprisingly, the Nugget in Sparks has also offered the Awful Awful since it opened in 1955.
The Nugget in Reno is now the Little Nugget Diner, which in 2010, went head to head with the Sparks Nugget on the Food Network’s “Food Wars” to see who had the best version of the burger; the Little Nugget Diner won.
Each location serves a slightly different version of the burger than was described in the 1954 ad but each is a winner.