The Nugget Project: Neighbors went from sweeping casino parking lots to owning one | NevadaAppeal.com

The Nugget Project: Neighbors went from sweeping casino parking lots to owning one

BRIAN DUGGAN
bduggan@nevadaappeal.com

Steven G. Neighbors entered the business world sweeping parking lots, namely the one at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, when he was a teenager.

Today, he’s running the Carson Nugget after the Gaming Commission on Thursday gave him the OK to take over the casino. He’s now the sole trustee of the Mae B. Adams Trust and its related foundation, which could partially fund a proposed $87 million redevelopment project on the Nugget’s land.

Neighbors, 56, hails from Boise, Idaho, where he also runs Strategic & Operational Solutions, a consulting firm for businesses. He lives there with his wife of 37 years, Susie.

“I’m a turnaround specialist,” Neighbors said. “So my job is to help (businesses) think through who they are and how they’re going to change their core offering and how they’re going to address the customer’s needs. I’m not a gaming expert, I’m not a casino expert.”

Neighbors was hired to help turn around the Carson Nugget when he was named its vice president amid slumping revenues. But Neighbor’s relationship with the casino and its former ownership goes deeper, especially with Mae B. Adams of Boise, who had co-owned the casino since the mid-1950s. She died in October.

About two years ago, Neighbors started the process to become Mae Adams’ conservator and went to court on her behalf over a disputed will left behind by her daughter Betty Jean Adams, who died in July 2008.

The dispute lasted nearly 18 months and involved 14 lawyers after Betty Jean hand-wrote a will, leaving behind the family fortune to a handful of distant relatives, evangelical ministries and an Israeli orphanage, according to Idaho court documents.

“Mae was really outraged over that,” Neighbors said. “She felt like Betty was not in her right mind and had been taken advantage of.”

Eventually, the parties settled out of court, according to Neighbors, shortly before Mae Adams died.

Neighbors said the last thing Adams wanted to do in her waning days was to go fight for money that she would never see. So she decided to give some to her family and leave the rest to Carson City by way of the Mae B. Adams Foundation.

“She had decided that money had not been a blessing to them,” Neighbors said. “And then to figure out how to give it back to the community from which it came.”

He said that’s the idea behind the Carson Nugget project.

“Mae didn’t particularly want the library, she just left me with the directions, ‘Don’t (just) give them the money,’ ” Neighbors said, adding her wishes were to “teach (Carson City) to fish. I want them to make their own fishing pole and dig their own worms.”

Neighbors spent most of his professional career building Eterna-line, a company that worked on road projects in 35 states. In 1985, the company made Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the United States, coming in at No. 457 with 507.3 percent growth and $2.8 million in revenue. It had 12 employees at the time.

He later sold the company in the late 1990s to begin work as a consultant.

Neighbors is a deeply religious man and attended George Fox University in Oregon, a Christian school, for degrees in management and organizational leadership. He is also nearing the completion of a doctorate in theology at the same school.

“I’m Christian so I have a Christian world view,” Neighbors said. “And I really think that fits in with almost any religion that believes it has a responsibility to society and to others. As I interact with other religious beliefs, really it’s kind of a concept of we’re all in this together, there’s a sense of community. And that’s probably what you see behind the Nugget trying to drive the Carson City turnaround.”