John Ascuaga’s Nugget celebrates 55th birthday 

While many celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on Wednesday, John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, Nev., commemorated another festivity: its 55th birthday.

“I’ve got so many great memories,” owner and president John Ascuaga said during an anniversary party Wednesday afternoon.

“Sure, we’ve had a few bumps in the road, but there are always bumps in the road,” he said. “I’m just very thankful for 55 years with wonderful employees and friends of the Nugget.”

The venue originally opened as Dick Graves’ Nugget, a 60-seat coffee shop with a few slot machines on March 17, 1955.

Ascuaga, who was the general manager, bought it on a handshake in 1960, growing it into a full-service casino resort, with two 29-story hotel towers; a casino; entertainment; eight restaurants; and conference center, wedding and spa operations.

Ascuaga is 85 and still drives two hours each way to work every day from his ranch near Genoa, south of Carson City. He and two of his children, Michonne, the CEO, and Stephen, the COO, still own and manage it.

Remember Bertha the Elephant? Or that some of the stars of the TV Western “Bonanza” — Lorne Greene, Michael Landon and Dan Blocker — would come to Sparks from filming near Lake Tahoe to play poker with Ascuaga?

As part of the anniversary, the Nugget invites people to offer submissions to an online collection of stories and memories about the Nugget, “Nugget Tales,” at nugget55.blogspot.com.

Concurrently with the anniversary, the Nugget has several promotions, some going into April. There are a couple versions of “Strike it Rich,” which can bring room rates to as low as $36 a night. There’s still time to take advantage of the March Madness package, there’s a “dinner and a show” package and a ski package.

In the last two years, the Ascuagas have pumped more than $20 million into a remodel of the east-tower hotel rooms, adding flat-screen TVs and iPod docking stations. The conference center and buffet were remodeled too, as was the sports book.

The Nugget is also a sponsor of several festivals, including the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off in September, which has become an international event drawing a half-million people.

Also, most of the Nugget restaurants will have special menus for Easter on April 4.

Tip: The indoor atrium pool is a year-round great place to sneak away from a boring convention session.

apacciorini@sfexaminer.com

John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort

Where: 1100 Nugget Ave., Sparks, Nev. (adjacent to Interstate 80)

Phone: (800) 648-1177

On the Web: www.janugget.com

Hotel rooms: 1,600

Slots: 1,200

Tables: 50

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Al Pacciorini

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