Western Basque Festival
Western Basque Festival
2007, kronika
160 orrialde
Miel A. Elustondo




A lot of things have passed away since the Nugget's heyday. The Nugget was a 60-seat coffee shop with a few slot machines when Dick Graves opened it in 1955. He was a restaurant owner from Idaho who decided to flee there when the state outlawed slots. He brought John Ascuaga with him as general manager. The two men chose the little railroad town of Sparks, three miles from Reno, because they weren't primarily in the gambling business. They simply recreated three of their Idaho restaurants- cum-slots —the other two were in Reno and Carson City— and kept on going. After a few months they closed the Reno and Carson City operations and settled on Sparks. The main reason: no other casinos for miles.

        But Graves and Ascuaga had arrived in Reno —well, three miles outside Reno— just at the end of its golden era, when it had not yet been surpassed by Vegas as the state's gambling capital, and so they got the building fever. Unlike Vegas, Reno was not mobbed up and certainly not infested with eastern money. There were two big players in town. The world famous Harold's Club, owned by Pappy Smith, had a saloon atmosphere and was the kind of place where the Smith family would sometimes mount up and ride their horses through the gaming area, just to stir things up. Harrah's, not yet a mega-corporation, was still run by Bill Harrah himself, and his big promotion was the world's largest classic car collection. (The collection is still there, but when the company passed out of the family, it shrank from 2.600 cars to a mere 200.) It was Bill Harrah, in fact, who instilled in Ascuaga his simple philosophy for running a gambling joint —putting out cheap abundant food, giving the players most of what they want, and being loyal to your entertainers.