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Herbst family to take over Searchlight Nugget next week

26 Jun 2015

By Howard Stutz
Herbst family-owned JETT Gaming will take over the Searchlight Nugget Casino next week after the Nevada Gaming Commission Thursday signed off on the purchase of the historic gaming site in tiny Searchlight.

JETT Gaming executive Tim Herbst told gaming commissioners the casino, which is being acquired for an undisclosed price from the Doing family, could be revived.

“I think we can do something with it,” said Herbst, whose company also operates Terrible’s Searchlight that is 300 yards from the Nugget.

The goal, he said, is to add amenities to the Nugget to give travelers a reason to stop in Searchlight, which is 60 miles south of Las Vegas.

“We want to bring people up from Cottonwood Cove,” Herbst said. “There are fishermen in the winter and summer recreational people. We want to give them a reason to stop.”

The Nugget operates 50 slot machines and a couple of table games that are open on weekends. The license was conditioned to allow just 100 slot machines and no table games.

Herbst said the Terrible’s has a gas station, snack bar and convenience store, with 75 slot machines. With the Nugget, the plan is to improve the restaurant offerings, expand the gift shop and bring in newer slot machines.

The property, which was built in 1979 by Warren and Verlie Doing, fell on hard times over the past few years because of the recession. The largest factor was the opening of the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge in 2010, which diverted traffic traveling to and from Arizona away from U.S. 95 and Searchlight.

Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo Jr. told Herbst he visited the property recently. He hadn’t been to Searchlight in 30 years.

“It hasn’t changed a bit,” Alamo said.

Commissioner John Moran Jr. said that “if anyone will be successful there, it will be the Herbsts.”

Herbst estimated 85 percent to 90 percent of the Nugget’s business comes from the drive-by traffic, rather than the town of more than 500 residents. The Nugget also employs 27 workers.

“We’d like to give folks heading to the lake a reason to stop,” Herbst said. He said JETT Gaming was exploring the addition of some type of museum or historical center at the Nugget to attract visitors.

JETT Gaming is a slot machine route operator with nearly 2,000 games. The sale gives JETT and the Herbst control over five Nevada casinos.

Last month, the company took over the Gold Strike Hotel & Gambling Hall south of Las Vegas in Jean. Herbst said the company will change the name of the property, per an agreement with MGM Resorts International, which previously owned the casino.

JETT Gaming owns the slot machine routes associated with the Terrible Herbst convenience stores.

“We’ve seen you now three times in the last 18 months,” Alamo told Herbst.

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