11 Apr

Leadership Change denotes Major Upgrades for Sparks Nugget Casino, really

Nugget Casino in Sparks, NevadaThe Nugget Casino in Sparks, Nevada has a long and winding history. Over the last 60 years, it’s undergone multiple expansion projects that brought it from a small gaming destination on the western border of central Nevada, just outside of Reno, to the colossal – but notably outdated – resort that it is today.

The casino’s antiquated architecture is about to receive a much needed $25 million upgrade, according to its soon-to-be new owners at Marnell Gaming. The Nevada Gaming Control Board has approved the company’s bid to purchase the property from its previous owners, Global Gaming and Hospitality.

Prior to Global’s takeover in 2013, the Nugget Casino and it’s dual 29-story hotel towers were already suffering from a lack of restorations. When siblings Michonne and Stephen Ascuaga took over management of the property in 1997 from their father, John Ascuaga, who had owned the Nugget since 1960, they promised to keep it in the family and continually reinvest in the property.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite as planned. As the Sparks, NV casino slowly deteriorated, the Ascuaga’s found revenue depleting too fast to reinvest in the once-popular gambling resort destination. Thus one of Nevada’s very last family-owned casinos was sold into the hands of Global Gaming.

At that time, the owners had big plans for the 1,600-room hotel and casino, promising to put $50 million into improvements of the establishment. But it wasn’t long before the GCB was forced to crack down on the Nugget Casino for  “egregiously and willfully” violating the state’s anti-money control laws.

The Nugget was slapped with a $1 million fine by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network just 24 hours prior to the GCB’s decision to grant Marnell approval to purchase the property from Global Gaming.

Records do not indicate the price tag agreed upon between Marnell and Global, but CEO Anthony Marnell III assured the GCB that under his guidance, failure to abide by the state’s strict policies in detecting and preventing money laundering “will never happen” again. Marnell has already begun working closely with a former board chairman to map out their plans for future compliance.

Terry Johnson, who currently serves on the Nevada Gaming Control Board, was impressed with Marnell’s level of attention to the matter as the company prepares to take over the hotel casino property in Sparks. Johnson said Marnell’s approach to swiftly complying with anti-money laundering laws showed a “high degree of seriousness”.

Furthermore, Mr. Marnell indicated that once the sale is closed and the business is officially under his control, he intends to invest $25 million into property-wide upgrades over the next 18-24 months. “The property is in desperate need of capital,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to improve the operations of the business substantially.”

He told the GCB the Nugget Casino will receive new slot machines with updated player tracking technology, for starters. Marnell is also planning a complete overhaul of the convention center and the hotel’s west tower .

Mr. Marnell has vast experience in the management of casino gaming properties. His father, Tony Marnell, helped to develop other major Las Vegas casinos like The Bellagio, Caesars Palace and The Wynn. In 2006, Anthony spearheaded the development of M Resort in Henderson, NV and sustained the role of President after Penn National Gaming acquired it in 2010. However, the new owner then purchased the Tropicana Las Vegas in 2015, hiring a new CEO to take charge of both properties.