Fertitta’s Golden Nugget will certainly be good for Atlantic City

Jun 8, 2011 7:41 AM

It’s kinda like déjà vu all over again . . . maybe.

That’s the thinking Atlantic City gaming regulators lean toward as they consider the possibilities generated by Tilman Fettitta’s purchase of the Trump Marina, soon to be a born-again Golden Nugget.

Fertitta will almost certainly be good for Atlantic City. The Houston-based owner of the Landry’s restaurant chain and the original Golden Nugget has already proven himself in Las Vegas where he continued spending millions on new pizzazz even as his Fremont Street neighbors remained in cost-cutting modes.

Whether Atlantic City will be just as good for Fertitta remains to be seen but he was positively upbeat during a recent conversation with members of the Casino Control Commission.

Casino officials there like to linger for a while in the glow of rare moments when they encounter what looks like good news. There hasn’t been a lot of good news these last several years.

So as Fertitta returns the Golden Nugget brand to Atlantic City some 24 years after Steve Wynn sold it, the DGE’s James Fogarty was moved to reminisce about how the Golden Nugget that debuted in 1980 "helped usher in a new era during a vastly different time."

He wondered aloud if Fertitta’s "infectious enthusiasm" will at least be the harbinger of better times to come" as the casinos struggle forward.

"We can at least hope that this Golden Nugget will be a turning point. Maybe in one or three or five years folks will point to this transaction as the one when Atlantic City began a turn-around."

Fertitta promises to pump cash, careful planning and enthusiasm into the Marina as the transformation progresses. He arrives at this Nugget-in-the-making well equipped to hit the ground running with a marketing program. The database accumulated through the Vegas Nugget and his Landry’s restaurants means there will be much less time spent trying to meet customers for the first time.

Vegas, he said, offers a "huge database" and the addition of the Atlantic City Nugget means, "You’ll see us market them together nationally all over the United States. When people come to Atlantic City we feel like everyone will give us a shot and we’re going to make sure we get our piece of the pie. We don’t want to steal a bunch of business from anybody. We want to bring in new customers."

The kind of thinking that is music to the ears of business leaders in a market that has struggled to find new business.

The Marina first caught Fertitta’s attention several years ago when he read that it was under contract to another party. He noted then that the price on it was "300 and something million," a figure close to what he had paid for the Las Vegas Nugget.

"I wished then that I had looked at it," he remembers saying. "I am always intrigued by the market."

But then the national economy tumbled into trouble and Fertitta had his mind on other matters.

One of the things Fertitta liked about Atlantic City was the fact that "it was a $3 billion market, yet there were only 11 properties in the market. This makes for a far better per casino win average than on the Las Vegas Strip.

"This is a great market. We just need to get it leveled off in the next year or two . . . and turn this into a destination type resort instead of just focusing on the gaming."

What that means, he explained, is nice spas, plenty of restaurants and pools that are open year-round."

But recognizing the importance of a we’re-all-in-this-together attitude, Fertitta gave credit to companies that will be his principal competitors.

"I think that Harrah’s (Caesars Entertainment) and the Borgata are doing great jobs. I think that’s what the Revel is going to do. The four of us will be the driving force to help change the perception of what Atlantic City is . . .

"It’s going to be a year-round market and hopefully it won’t be just a Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning thing. We need to bring the convention business in Monday through Thursday."

Fertitta moved quickly. One of the Landry’s Chart House restaurants is already open.

"It kind of shows how we’re going to do the major buildings . . . We’re trying to create excitement from day one, not just sit on our hands with a negative cash flow."