The owner of a Las Vegas company that has purchased the Nugget hotel-casino calls the Sparks property a sleeper and says he has plans to wake it up and make it shine through an extensive renovation.
“I think the Nugget’s a sleeper,” Anthony Marnell III, owner of Marnell Gaming, told the Sparks Tribune. “It should be one of the top three products in that market not only in how it looks and how it feels, but how the market responds to it. It’s too good of an asset, too good of a location, to be positioned where it’s at today.
“It should be the pride of Sparks, and it shouldn’t be a product that has never had enough money put into it and fixed up. It should be the spot Sparks wants to go to.”
Marnell vows to make that happen, saying his company will invest heavily in transforming the Nugget into the jewel it once was. But don’t expect the changes to happen rapidly; Marnell said he wants to listen and learn first to make sure that his vision for the venerable Sparks hotel-casino is the right one.
“I’m not in a big hurry, and we have the money,” he said. “But what we want to make sure of is that we get it right. I have a lot to learn when I get there (by) talking to people and listening. It’s amazing how many emails and phone calls I’ve already gotten from customers and people who have all kinds of opinions.
“I don’t think we’ll ever make everybody happy, but what we do want to do is make sure that what we put forward there again is an A-plus product. I want the people of Sparks to be proud of the Nugget.”
One item that he definitely wants to maintain: The annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off. He said he wants the event to continue indefinitely and grow.
Marnell, a former minor league catcher who was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1995 after playing baseball at the University of Arizona, opened the M Resort, a hotel-casino south of the Las Vegas Strip, in 2009 at a cost of about $1 billion. He also helped his father, casino pioneer Tony Marnell II, who built the Rio hotel in Las Vegas.
Two days after the Nugget sale was publicly announced, Marnell, in a telephone interview with the Sparks Tribune, disclosed additional thoughts about his company and the Sparks resort that John Ascuaga made famous.
What attracted your company to the Nugget?
What’s not to like about the Nugget. I think it’s just a great property in a great location in a city that’s going the right way and growing. It has a lot of upside in it. There’s still a lot of work to be done to it. And I think that it’s got all the right stuff to be an unbelievably competitive product in that market. It just needs capital, and it needs a lot of it. The old Nugget will be back; it can shine and do all kinds of things.
What are your thoughts about the future of the gaming market in Reno-Sparks?
I think it’s positive. I think the market had a nice little year growing, and I like a lot of things that are happening in Northern Nevada: The economy’s a little more diversified, new big companies are coming in, housing prices seem to be going up…It’s a big market. I’m used to competing in different areas of Nevada, whether it be Pahrump or Laughlin or even local Las Vegas. I’ve got a decent perspective on the Nevada market. But’s there still a lot of learn though in Northern Nevada. We know a lot, but not by any means do we know as much as we need to. But I think there’s plenty of business there for the Nugget to do real well.
How would you describe your company’s philosophy or style?
Family from A to Z in any property we’ve run. We run it a lot like a family, but we do invest significant amounts of capital in properties we’ve bought and owned. And we expect our employees to give the guests A-plus service. We’re going to spend a lot of money trying to bring people to the property, and we ask that our people take care of them, and that should equal a better living, a better way for everybody.
We’re not corporate. We don’t wear suits and ties. We’re Nevadans first and foremost. We’re going to be heavily involved in the community. I think if you look at our record on participating in the community, getting behind things that benefit people, children, charities — were active, aggressively active.
What major changes do you have in mind for the property?
I don’t see any major changes at the moment other than renovating the things that need to be renovated. The west tower (and) the convention center are in shambles in my opinion. The casino floor has had some things done to it, but it needs to be done from door to door. The showroom needs to be redone; the steakhouse needs to be redone. I don’t know exactly what direction yet I want to go with the property. I’ve got some ideas on what I want it to look like when it’s done, but I’m not ready to let those out yet. I want to understand and listen and learn, and when I’m ready to make my move, I’ll make it.
What should employees expect with the change in ownership?
We are (keeping) all employees the day we get there. There’s no loss in benefits; there’s no loss in tenure; no loss in vacation. There are always some changes, and I won’t say that there won’t be, but right now our intention is we’re keeping 100 percent of the senior management team and 100 percent of the employees.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We’re really exciting for the opportunity to become a part of the community. I don’t think we could have found a better place, and we look forward to meeting a lot of people in the community. Like I said the other day, ‘Be patient.’ The contractor’s not going to show up on day one. We certainly have ideas and visions, and we want to validate a lot of them.