Nugget has long history in Carson City |

Nugget has long history in Carson City

Dave Frank
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
Courtesy of the Nevada State Museum.

Richard Graves said he didn’t know what would happen when he opened a casino in 1954 in downtown Carson City, but he was glad he did.

“The Carson Nugget took right off,” Graves said when interviewed in 1978 for the University of Nevada’s Oral History Program. “It was very surprising to me because Carson was a sleepy little town: There wasn’t much business in town.”

But Graves quickly helped establish what is now the oldest continuously operating casino in Carson City that grew under the ownership of the Adams family and could be soon sold to an undisclosed developer looking to redevelop downtown.

The Carson Nugget was smaller in the 1950s, but Graves worked hard to popularize the casino and the other Nugget casinos he founded, including what later became John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks.

Graves regretted including an 18-carat, 15-pound Golden Rooster that was part of his gold collection as one of his most popular promotions for the Carson Nugget, in his sale to the Adams family. Graves brought up the collection in an interview with the University of Nevada, Reno.

Hop and Howard Adams, who like Graves came to Nevada after gambling was banned in their home state of Idaho, bought the casino in the mid-to-late 1950s after owning casinos in Southern Nevada.

The brothers added to the original building that was about the size of the current coffee shop by buying buildings on the block at the corner of the Carson and Robinson streets.

The 1980s seems to be the busiest time for the Carson Nugget, according to records from the Nevada State Library & Archives.

A 60,000-square-foot expansion was started in 1982. A Nevada business called Coral Casino Corp. tried to take over the casino in 1985 through an application to the state and, in 1989, the casino had 600 employees, more than 250 more than it has now.

The Adams brothers also kept up the tradition of offering a free Thanksgiving dinner to the public that Graves started in 1954.

“Just come to the Nugget, order your dinner and, on your way out, tell the cashier you’re one of my guests,” Graves said in 1954, according to state records.

The 80,000-square-foot casino is now owned by Howard’s son, Alan Adams, and Hop’s wife, Mae Adams. Graves died in 1990, Howard Adams died in 1999 and Hop Adams died in 2003.

The future of the casino is not clear, but Carson Nugget officers say it will be managed by the Adams family as a nonprofit benefiting charities in Carson City when it is bought by the unnamed developer.

Carson Station casino owner Clark Russell said the Adams family and former general manager Brian Smith helped the casino be successful by running a “good clean” business.

“The Nugget has always been a very, very profitable gaming operation,” he said. “Run exceptionally well. Exceptionally managed.”

With casinos already larger than the Carson Nugget and more planned not only in Las Vegas and Reno, but also in Carson City, the casino has “started to show its age,” said State Archivist Guy Rocha.

It has done renovations over the years, he said, but has not kept up with other casinos quickly enough to maintain its status as “the place to be” in Carson City.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘is the Nugget a 21st Century casino?’ The answer is, ‘It may not be,'” Rocha said.

– Contact reporter Dave Frank at or 881-1212.