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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

John Ascuaga's Nugget sold to private investment group

11 October 2013

John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks has been sold to a private investment group, which will end more than 50 years of family ownership in the Northern Nevada hotel-casino.

A sale price was not disclosed. The transaction requires approval of state gaming regulators.

Husky Finance, a middle-market lender, is financing the deal. Global Gaming &Hospitality will operate the resort. Michael Kim and Carlton Geer, the partners in Global Gaming, were given a pre­liminary finding of suitability Wednesday by the Gaming Control Board.

Nugget CEO Michonne Ascuaga said the sale offered “the best possible scenario” for employees and the future of the 1,600-room hotel-casino.

“The new owners have the financial resources needed to invest in the property and allow it, and its 1,300 employees, to prosper in the years ahead,” Ascuaga said.

The Ascuaga family will remain in a leadership role during the transition, which is expected to be completed by year’s end. John Ascuaga will be the resort’s chairman emeritus once the sale closes. Michonne Ascuaga and her brother, Chief Operating Officer Stephen Ascuaga, will assume advisory roles.

Geer, who will become the hotel-casino’s CEO, is from Northern Nevada and has spent 40 years in the gaming industry, including stints in executive positions with the Eldorado and Peppermill casinos.

In a statement, Geer said the new owner­ship would invest $50 million on improvements to the hotel-casino. Initially, Geer said the company would spend $20 million over the next two years on new gaming equipment, restaurant renovations and other upgrades to the property’s public area.

“John Ascuaga’s Nugget is an iconic property with a rich history in Nevada,” Geer said. “Access to critical investment capital will be an important new competitive advantage for the Nugget.”

Geer said the name John Ascuaga’s Nugget will remain in the near term, with a potential name change in the future.

John Ascuaga, 88, has been a Northern Nevada institution since he acquired the casino in 1960 for $3.775 million from its original owner, Dick Graves, who opened the Sparks Nugget in 1955 as a 60-seat coffee shop with slot machines.

The Ascuaga family has the property’s sole owner and expanded the resort to its current size as one of Northern Nevada’s largest casinos, with a 75,000-square-foot gaming floor, 110,000 square feet of meeting space, nine restaurants, a 700-seat showroom and other amenities.

In a statement, John Ascuaga said he was pleased the ownership would continue various community programs while employees will retain their seniority and benefits.

“While this has been an emotional decision, the $50 million that will be invested in the Nugget gives it the best opportunity for success,” John Ascuaga said.