News | Golden opportunity: Tilman Fertitta eyes a new era with reborn Golden Nugget in Atlantic City

June 04, 2011

By Phil Roura | NY Daily News

Original Article

Tilman Fertitta stares out at the Farley State Marina in Atlantic City and then to the Absecon Channel beyond. His mind races with ideas as he turns to the nearby building that just the other day was the Trump Marina, but despite the name could never develop enough muscle to take on its neighbors.

The visionary smiles. Finally, he says to himself: "I can do this."

Several weeks ago, Fertitta plunked down $38 million to buy the ailing casino, dedicated another $150 million for renovations (a rumored $50 million from his own pocket) and single-handedly
brought a glitzy new glow to the city. The Golden Nugget had been reborn.

"I don't get into things to lose," he says when asked why he did it. "I have great confidence that the economy is going to get better. We have a great brand name that will do very well in the second-greatest gaming market in the USA."

If that makes him sound a little like George Steinbrenner, it's because Fertitta is a lot like the late Boss, who took a staggering team in 1973 and turned it into the most iconic franchise in sports. "Actually, Steinbrenner was the principal owner. I'm the sole owner," he corrects, laughing.

Fertitta's company is the Houston-based Landry's Inc. It is the nation's largest privately held restaurant, entertainment and gaming company owned by one individual and has combined revenues and assets of over $4 billion. It runs the Chart House restaurants, Rainforest Cafe,Bubba Gump Shrimp, Vic & Anthony's, among others, and the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas andLaughlin, Nev.

Was the Marina's bargain-basement price a factor?

"Of course it was," says the handsome Texan. "The fact that it was on the water was also a factor."

On May 24, he won over the tough New Jersey Casino Control Commission, which granted Landry a casino license. "Obviously we were very impressed with him," says an insider familiar with the hearing.

Fertitta claims he wants all sorts of people to come to the new Nugget. But when pressed if the casino will cater to the $2 blackjack player as the Marina did the past year, the 53-year-old father of four boys emphasizes the Nugget will not be a $2 hotel.

"We will operate at a high level," he says. "We've already opened a new Chart House restaurant. Our Showroom [the old Shell cabaret] has been outfitted with 500 theater-style seats. We're putting in new restaurants and lounges. We've signed Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Steve Tyrell to play a couple of weeks there this summer. We're gutting our guest rooms and we will look into building another new tower."

After a pause, Fertitta adds: "But we have to take care of the exterior. It looks like a hospital. I want it to look bright and glittering as soon as possible."

New York Daily News, Saturday, June 4, 2011