Gardnerville says goodbye to legendary casino owner
Milos S. “Sharkey” Begovich, the legendary owner of a landmark Gardnerville casino that bears his name, died Friday morning.
He was 76.
The exact cause of death was unknown at press time, but Sharkey was known to be battling cancer and had three operations, including a quadruple bypass, in 2001.
Details about Sharkey’s funeral service were unknown late Friday.
Begovich was born Aug. 1, 1926, in Plymouth, Calif.
Sharkey’s Nugget Casino, which he sold last year to Sparks businessman Harold Holder, was famous for its collection of Western memorabilia and an endless array of kitschy collectibles.
For 30 years, the casino hosted a Serbian Christmas, an Eastern Orthodox tradition passed down from Sharkey’s mother who ran a boarding house in Plymouth.
When Sharkey opened the casino in 1971, he decided to continue the tradition.
“I started it (30 years ago) and it naturally started as a small thing, but it’s grown so it’s not even believable to the people who haven’t seen it,” Sharkey said in January 2001 at the last Serbian Christmas. “It just tickles me to be able to do it.”
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., learned of Sharkey’s death during a Friday speech at the Carson Valley Inn.
“Part of Nevada died with Sharkey,” Reid said. “Even though he was a very proud individual, proud of the history, he was very unique.”
Don Bently, owner of Bently Agrowdynamics, and a former member of Carson Valley’s long-standing Sunday morning “breakfast club,” said Friday he’ll miss Sharkey very much.
Another breakfast club member, Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen said the club met weekly and “solved all the problems of the world.”
“Sometimes we got into heated arguments but in most cases, we went home laughing,” Jacobsen said.
Douglas County Commissioner Bernie Curtis, and a Sharkey’s employee said the former casino owner’s death occurred almost 30 years to the day after Curtis met him, Aug. 7, 1972.
“He’s been a pillar of the community a long, long time,” Curtis said. “He was a quiet decent man with wonderful feelings toward the community.”
Curtis said Sharkey essentially put Gardnerville on the international map.
Curtis said for years people from Maui, Hawaii, to Nanaimo, B.C. knew Gardnerville because of Sharkey’s famous prime rib dinners.
When people learn you’re from Gardnerville, Curtis said, they ask if Sharkey still serves his prime rib dinner.
Longtime Carson Valley resident Bill Tomerlin, said he’ll remember Sharkey as a great storyteller.
“He always had news or he would talk about the old days in business,” Tomerlin said. “He was a very interesting character. I am very sorry to hear he died.”
Tomerlin’s wife, Marsha, said she knew Sharkey for 30 years and saw Sharkey him for the final time about two months ago.
“I knew he was going to be called to the big casino in the sky very soon,” she said. “I was surprised how long he held on to life. It was a credit to the man’s stamina.”
Tomerlin also said Sharkey’s daughter, Mashelle Begovich, deserves credit for caring for her father.
“She is an angel from heaven,” she said. “She’s certainly earned her wings this year.”
Foothill Road resident Kenneth Hellwinkel, 74, used to bid on auctioned animals for Sharkey at area livestock shows.
“Sharkey was one who would help out people,” he said. “He contributed to organizations, and helped out people all the time. He was always generous that way.”
Sharkey was not only a legend in Carson Valley, but seemingly much of the entertainment world knew of the Gardnerville casino and its witty owner, as well.
The casino’s walls were adorned with signed photographs of numerous celebrities, including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and rodeo legend Casey Tibbs.
“People came to him, you can’t explain it,” said Mashelle Begovich earlier this year. For many of those living legends of country music, it was impossible to come by Lake Tahoe or visit Reno without “seeing the Shark.”
“Every day was an adventure, you never knew who was coming in,” said former long-time employee Elaine Agnason during a January interview.
Hellwinkel also told an anecdote about Sharkey’s relationship with pop singer “Jewel.”
Six months ago, Hellwinkel said Jewel visited Sharkey’s to see Sharkey’s saddle collection.
“Sharkey knew her. He had people like that come from all over to see him,” Hellwinkel said.
Holder, the man who bought Sharkey’s Casino in 2001 and took over operations New Year’s Day this year, said the deal was done with a handshake.
“We became very good friends,” Holder said. “I think he will be sorely missed because he’s certainly one of the legends not only in Nevada, but in gaming.”
“Every association I had with him and in every conversation, he was the ultimate gentleman,” Holder said.
“I’m very saddened by it. He fought hard with a number of medical problems. He was a real fighter,” Holder said. “A lesser man would have given up a long time ago, but not Sharkey.”
A memorial is planned at Sharkey’s Casino for next week. The date and time were uncertain as of Friday.
“I think we’ve lost a real friend,” Jacobsen said. “He was a first-class citizen. I don’t think he knew the word ‘no.'”
Sharkey bought the Golden Bubble in 1972. It’s been Sharkey’s ever since.
Holder said the casino will retain the name of its longtime, legendary owner.
Sharkey formerly operated casinos in Jackson, Calif., in the 1950s before moving to Lake Tahoe and beginning a long association with casino owner Bill Harrah.
Mashelle Begovich said earlier this year her father is not just the “king of garage sales.”
Seemingly every antique dealer in the United States would call Sharkey if there was something Sharkey would want. Mashelle said the answer was invariably “yes.”
The old saying, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, was virtually a mantra to her father, Begovich said.
An auction of the memorabilia in February netted about $2.4 million.
In an interview earlier this year, Sharkey gave his philosophy about life.
“Life is about people,” Sharkey said. “You meet some interesting ones.”
After Friday, the world is now minus one of its “interesting ones.”
n Staff Writer Scott Murphy can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com