Fertitta merger not (too) off the wall?

February 05, 2008 6:06 AM
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Tilman Fertitta’s bid to take Landry’s private will probably not work unless he expects to mostly use his own money.

That’s merely an opinion but it comes from a senior resort executive who has his own reasons to be very familiar with what the credit markets are willing to do for big money deals like Fertitta’s plan for the Houston-based restaurant chain.

My executive source underscored a familiar point: These are not the best of times for this kind of thinking.

Fertitta — who also owns downtown’s Golden Nugget — has not yet made himself available to discuss the specifics but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he has what it takes to get the job done.

Which makes this a good time to re-visit prospects for an eventual get-together with his Las Vegas cousins, who just accomplished the same thing with their Las Vegas-based Station Casinos, taking the company private in a joint venture with Colony Capital.

A truly national combination of dining, entertainment and gambling possibilities makes a lot of sense to a handful of expert sources who gave the issue some serious thought.

Makes you wonder if there might already have been some conversations with people like Colony Capital chief executive Tom Barrack.

Put the two entities together and then wait to see what the next few years bring in terms of other opportunities for expanded gaming opportunities that may involve slots or full-fledged casinos.

And let’s not forget that the Las Vegas Fertittas (Frank and Lorenzo) appear to literally own one of the hottest trends in extreme sports — the Ultimate Fighting Championship series.

This would be a lot of complementary entertainment under one corporate roof. Put it all together in an attractive package and then take it public again in a few years.

Makes sense, not that making sense necessarily has anything to do with what often happens.

But having said this much, there may be all kinds of reasons why this will NOT get serious attention — ego and conflicting styles being at least two of them. Industry insiders who may or may not have the best view of the dynamics shaping the two sides of the Fertitta clan, say the two Fertitta families do not get along.

"I’ve seen evidence of some tension," is the way one source phrased it.

Tilman has previously said there is nothing to this kind of talk. Even if there is "strain," notes a second source, who is well-positioned to have a view of the big picture, "Putting these companies together makes sense, and if there is a deal to be made, they won’t let egos screw it up."

What Tilman might bring to the deal is a large national restaurant chain with a large database and real estate holdings that will probably one day accommodate casinos, as expansion continues. He’s also got a respected casino brand, thanks to everything Steve Wynn created when he put the resort on steroids in downtown Las Vegas and then took it to Atlantic City where the Nugget became a quick winner.

And here’s another possibility that also makes sense at a time when Tilman is acting like finding the millions necessary to buy out Landry’s is no big deal. Perhaps he will be among those putting in a bid for the Atlantic City Tropicana or its neighbor the Atlantic City Hilton, the Boardwalk resort that was once known as the Golden Nugget.

Either one is buyable and the return of the Nugget to Atlantic City would strike an appealing chord with many people there.