Reno’s Little Nugget Casino Closing Due to COVID-19

  • Owner Rick Heaney said COVID-19 impact makes it “economically impossible” to remain open
  • Heaney also said cancellation of special events in Reno made it impractical to continue
  • Customers expressed sadness, saying Little Nugget will be missed in the community
  • Little Nugget synonymous with the “awful big and awful good” Awful Awful burger
The Reno Arch
Reno’s Little Nugget casino will close permanently on July 30 due to fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, with owner Rick Heaney saying it was “economically impossible” to remain open. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

COVID-19 makes business financially unviable

The birthplace of the Silver State’s iconic Awful Awful burger, the Nugget Casino and Diner in downtown Reno, will permanently close on July 30, with owner Rick Heaney saying that it was “economically impossible” to remain open.

Little Nugget cannot survive through the winter months”

“The worldwide COVID-19 virus pandemic […] caused all non-restricted gaming to close in the state of Nevada. The venues then briefly reopened, only to see bars inside the casino close again. That has made it clear that the Little Nugget cannot survive through the winter months,” Heaney told Reno TV station KRNV.

Heaney also told KRNV that cancellation of special events in The Biggest Little City in the World made it “impractical” for the business to continue.

Emotions running high

In a report on KOLO-TV, a dual ABC/CW+-affiliated Reno television station, Little Nugget customers expressed sadness over the closure news.

“It’s a place where everyone likes to come […] it’s going to be missed in the community,” said James McCray. Fellow Little Nugget customer Julio Rosales spoke of people coming out in support of the establishment, saying:

It just shows how much this place has influenced everybody and […] how much they actually care.”

Nevada has been hard hit by the pandemic, with it being declared a “red zone” last week after over 100 visitors tested positive. In a poignant statement flighted on KOLO-TV, proprietor Heaney said Little Nugget had “tried so hard to continue to be a long-standing tradition of locals and visitors […] but sadly, our last chapter has come to an end.”

Rick Heaney purchased the Little Nugget, then known as The Piccadilly, from Jim Kelly in 1989. Kelly was a former business partner of Dick Graves. Graves was a gaming innovator who moved to Reno after his native Idaho outlawed slot machines in 1953. By March of 1954, Graves had opened three café-casinos in Nevada, in Carson City, Reno, and Yerington – all christened The Nugget.

Nevada’s burger king

The Little Nugget is synonymous with the Awful Awful burger, which earned its name by virtue of being “awful big and awful good,” according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. The burger is a well-known brand. Heaney is on record as saying, “We’ve been on the Travel Channel, and we’ve had articles from the New York Times to the Sacramento Bee.”

An article published by the Reno Gazette-Journal in 2019 said the Awful Awful burger made its debut in Brunswick Café, Idaho. According to a 2007 interview between former Sparks Nugget owner John Ascuaga and the daily newspaper, the burger arrived in Nevada in 1952, launching in the Golden Nugget’s current location.

Weighing a half pound accompanied by approximately one pound of fries or onion rings the Awful Awful burger, served on a toasted bun in a basket, features a secret sauce that Heaney told the Reno Gazette-Journal he holds “pretty close to the vest.”

While the Reno Gazette-Journal reports the Little Nugget will close to customers at 5 am on July 30, it also quotes Heaney saying he would ask Nevada gaming officials for permission to keep his non-restricted gaming license active. “It’s sad, this is the last time they’re going to get an Awful Awful,” said Rosales.