The Nugget, which is visible from many parts of the valley, competes with Reno's biggest casinos for customers. Like many other casinos, it began as a small operation, opening in downtown Sparks in 1955 as one of four coffee shops in northern Nevada. John Ascuaga, son of a Basque sheepherder, started out as general manager, eventually buying the business in 1960. In 1984 he added the first hotel tower, a concrete, rectangular block with 600 rooms. The second tower, completed in 1996, stands to the west of the first. An angular concrete, steel, and glass tower with 800 rooms, it complements the earlier tower in its use of materials, but its dynamic lines add more visual interest to the entire complex.
As Sparks grew, so did the Nugget. In 1973, as I-80 plowed its way through the downtown area, Ascuaga persuaded the federal and state governments to give him a long-term lease of the space under the freeway. He expanded his casino under and around the interstate. Despite the addition of lanes to the freeway east and west of the casino, the roadway still narrows to a bottleneck as it crosses over the Nugget. Thus far, no casino has ever been demolished to make way for a road.