Nevada gaming pioneer John Ascuaga dead at 96

Record Courier Report
John Ascuaga

Jacks Valley Ranch owner and philanthropist John Ascuaga died on Monday.

“We are truly saddened to hear of John Ascuaga’s passing and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his family and all the members of the community who knew him and benefitted from his impact,” said Marnell Gaming CEO Anthony Marnell III. “John was not only an icon in Northern Nevada and throughout the region, he was also one of the true pioneers in Nevada gaming and helped shape the direction of the entire state.”

Ascuaga purchased the Nugget from founder Dick Graves in 1960 and operated it for the next 53 years, shepherding the growth and expansion from a coffee shop with a few slot machines to the two-tower hotel, convention center, full-service casino and multi-outlet dining facility it became.

Ascuaga purchased Jacks Valley Ranch in 1969 from Bud Grant. The ranch was previously owned by Mac C. Fleishmann.

“I’m just an average guy, like anybody else,” he told The Record-Courier in 1980. “I enjoy my work but I also insist on spending a lot of time with my family. And the tremendous beauty of this part of the country always amazes and excites me.”

He was born to Basque sheepherding and farming immigrants in western Idaho and worked his way through college to receive accounting and hotel management degrees.

He had been in Northern Nevada for a year in 1955 when the Nugget opened as a 60-seat coffee shop opposite its current site, according to the interview.

Longtime Carson Valley residents remember Ascuaga’s elephants Bertha and Tina in the annual Carson Valley Days Parade.

In 2016, he sold 1,230 acres of conservation easement on the ranch.

“He was a tireless community philanthropist who gave generously to graduates throughout Northern Nevada through the Nugget Scholarship Program,” the company said. “He also partnered with St. Vincent’s Dining Room to feed the homeless every Thanksgiving and Christmas and supported charities and fundraising events too numerous to mention not only in Nevada, but across the western states.”

Ascuaga was 96 years old. His children attended Douglas High School.

Ascuaga and his family’s impact will be felt for many years to come throughout the west and his memory and legacy will always be held in the highest regard at the Nugget.

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