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Richard N. Velotta

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CEO's NFL Ties Would Affect Wagers

9 Sep 2005

By Richard N. Velotta, Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS -- When sports bettors place professional football wagers at the two Golden Nugget properties in Southern Nevada, they won't be able to bet on the Houston Texans.

That's because Tilman Fertitta -- the chief executive of Landry's Restaurants Inc. who is one vote away from getting a Nevada gaming license -- is a minority owner of the National Football League team.

Just as the sports book at the Palms can't put Sacramento Kings games on the board because the Maloof family owns the National Basketball Association team, both the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas and its sister property in Laughlin won't take bets on the Texans for the same reason.

The restriction was one of the conditions placed on the licensing of executives of the new owner of the Golden Nugget, which was recommended for approval in a unanimous state Gaming Control Board vote on Thursday. The Nevada Gaming Commission will take up the licensing issue at its Sept. 28 meeting.

The stipulation wasn't unexpected and was one of the only issues raised at the meeting for Landry's. Fertitta, a cousin of Station Casinos Inc. executives Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, charmed regulators with his Texas witticisms and gave the board hope that downtown Las Vegas would benefit from an upswing as a result of Landry's planned investments in the area and improvements promised by another downtown applicant at the meeting from the Lady Luck Casino.

While Fertitta was praised as a savvy businessman with a healthy balance sheet, Andrew Donner, a trustee for the Donner Investment Trust, which also was recommended for licensing Thursday, was credited for developing a plan to expand the Lady Luck.

Donner and business partner Keith Grossman acquired the 758-room property in May for $24 million fromlandlord Steadfast AMX, Newport Beach, Calif., which converted some of the property's rooms to timeshare units.

Donner and Grossman bought 23,000 square feet at the former Trolley Stop Casino across the street from the Lady Luck last year and rejuvenated it into a hip night spot that includes the Hogs and Heifers bar and the Triple George Grill.

While Donner told regulators he felt he had made some mistakes along the way, board member Bobby Siller said Donner overcame a number of challenges.

"I think you're being a little hard on yourself," Siller said at the meeting. "It's good to see you and Mr. Fertitta in the downtown area. It's a sharp, tough business. It's not on-the-job training and it's not a Tupperware party."

Siller said someday, Donner and Fertitta may be looked upon as the "third wave" of creative downtown developers behind the likes of Steve Wynn, Tim Poster and Tom Breitling.

Donner, whose Henry Brent Co. is the majority owner of the Timbers Bar and Grill chain in Southern Nevada, and his partners hope to add 20,000 square feet to the casino floor and eventually build up to 1,000 hotel rooms at the site of two old towers on the property -- one two stories and another four stories high.

Meanwhile at the Golden Nugget, Fertitta is in the preliminary stages of planning a new tower and wants to place a uniform gold and white facade on all of the Golden Nugget structures to make it look like one resort. Fertitta said Thursday that he doesn't know how many rooms the tower would have or how much it would cost, but that he hopes to convince city fathers to abandon Carson Street and make it available for the tower construction.

He also said he plans to build two new upscale restaurants, a 1,200-seat showroom and a swimming pool adjacent to an aquarium so that swimmers can be within inches of sharks. Landry's owns a host of restaurant chains and is the second-largest aquarium developer in the nation behind Sea World.

Fertitta said that he was encouraged by the spark in interest generated downtown by the opening of the World Market Center and that he hopes the continued development of that center would result in all downtown properties prospering.

Copyright © Las Vegas Sun. Inc. Republished with permission.

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