By John L. Smith – “Nevada Smith”
SEARCHLIGHT — The café inside the Searchlight Nugget Casino bustled with Saturday morning breakfast trade. The menu has changed a little over the years, but coffee is still a dime here.
Truckers and tourists mixed with a large contingent of local diners. Seated at a long center table was an extended family group of 10: Moms and dads, brothers and sisters, kids and grandkids, and even a great-grandchild.
In the middle of all the affection and eggs, just where she wanted to be, sat Verlie Doing, proud great grandma and owner of the Searchlight Nugget.
Verlie’s blue eyes sparkle whether she’s visiting with family or greeting longtime customers. Although her energy seems boundless, she turns 89 this month. In recent weeks she let it be known that she’s placed her considerable holdings, including the casino, 21-room El Rey Motel, various commercial buildings and 41 acres overall, on the market. Asking price is $5 million.
The news spread through the town and up U.S. 95 to Las Vegas, where the local newspapers treated Verlie like a celebrity. Fact is, in Searchlight she’s as well known — and I’d argue even better liked — than the town’s most famous resident, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Whether she was running the casino and café or helping her fellow residents with a variety of challenges, Verlie has been a fixture around Searchlight since she and late husband Warren Doing bought the care-worn Sandy’s casino in 1967. Their connection to Nevada stretched back to 1952, when they moved with their young son from Phoenix to Yerington and managed to place a handful of slots in the lobby of a local restaurant. From there it was on to Beatty, where they bought the Exchange Club and made it into a winner.
They learned a lesson in Beatty that served them well through the years. It’s a lesson whoever buys the Searchlight Nugget should take to heart.
“When we bought the Exchange Club, the man who sold it to us said, ‘Now you keep those locals out of here. I’ve run them all off, and they don’t give you any business, and remember that,’” Doing recalled. “My husband, when we got back in the car, just laughed. The first thing he did was bring all the locals in to eat. The locals are the whole secret to business in a small town. They’re just great, and they’re just a part of everything. And that’s the whole thing, it really is.”
They also fill the jobs a small casino creates. Through the years, the Doings have employed many Searchlight residents.
“All the people that are working right now, they’re local,” she said.
There were tough times after Warren died in 1984 — a handsome portrait of the gentleman cowboy hangs in the Nugget’s lobby — but Verlie was proud to say she managed to pay off the mortgage five years early.
While she plans to move to a family home at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, she knows a piece of her heart will always stay in Searchlight. The mere mention of the place sends her into speeches that would make a small-town mayor beam.
Enthusiasm is another thing the next owner will need.
“They’ll have to relate to the town, and it’s a good town to relate to,” she said. “I mean, we’re only 13 miles from the best fishing on the Colorado River. We have wonderful trails and mountains, and right now we have a gold mine out here the Coyote that’s about ready to open. It was established at the turn of the 20th century and it’s going to employ 60 people, which for Searchlight will be just a Godsend.”
During a short visit she extolled the virtues of the town and the importance of Reid to its survival. She talked about the many years she spent living in an apartment above the casino and restaurant so she could walk just a few steps to work at a job that with long hours and few days off.
To be successful you have to live it, “and you have to like it,” she said. And she obviously did.
“We came here in 1967. I turn 89 this month. I love Searchlight and everything about it. It’s been really, really good to us, but I have all the grandkids and one great- grandkid. I want to spend time with them.
“It’s time to go, that’s all. I’m tired.”
While Verlie Doing has earned her retirement and then some, Searchlight won’t soon replace its blue-eyed beacon of goodwill.
Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 702 383-0295.