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Smooth Sailing

Jun 26, 2001 10:58 AM

Like a swimmer who must wait an hour after eating, Station Casinos is "digesting" its recent acquisitions before venturing into new waters.

"This was a transition year for us, and we’re in the process of digesting some of the acquisitions we made in the Las Vegas locals market," says Lorenzo Fertitta, the 32-year-old president of Station Casinos.

But that doesn’t mean the company has gone into dry dock, Fertitta adds.

"We’ve always been a very aggressive development company, and we still have a number of casino sites that we think have the potential to be developed in the years to come," he says.

In addition to developing future sites, Station will christen its newest casino at Green Valley Ranch later this year.

"The new resort will be different from other locals casinos in that it will closely reflect the upscale area surrounding it," Fertitta says. "Plus, we’re bringing in some exciting restaurant tenants from around the country."

Another project that’s high on Fertitta’s list is the UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship. Purchased in January by Lorenzo and his brother, Frank Fertitta III, Station chairman and CEO, the UFC is a new sport that combines elements of boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, judo and jiu-jitsu.

It is not, however, a "blood sport" free-for-all, Fertitta points out.

"It is the least understood sport in America," he says. "It’s all about strategy, and many of the participants are former Olympic athletes."

So far, Fertitta’s company has promoted two sold-out UFC events at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. A third will be held Friday at the Meadowlands. All the events were approved by the New Jersey State Athletic Commission.

Nevada’s Athletic Commission has yet to sanction UFC events. Fertitta - a former member and vice chairman of the commission - says the commission is currently reviewing a preliminary set of rules.

With Fertitta backing the UFC, it’s almost certain to blossom. That’s been his track record ever since he ran Fertitta Enterprises, an investment management company with dealings in securities trading, real estate development and speculation.

Among the lucrative venture capital deals that Fertitta helped navigate were the purchase and sale of Gordon Biersch Brewing Company and the funding of Travelscape.com, which was eventually sold to Expedia, an affiliate of Microsoft.

Investment analysts estimate the deals could have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Fertitta family’s investment business.

Call it sound fiscal skills or simply the Midas touch - whatever Fertitta has, his brother, Frank, wanted it back in the management of Station Casinos.

"Last year, Frank asked me to come to work full-time as president," Fertitta says. "I had always been involved at Station and have worked closely with my brother since the company went public in 1993."

Even before that, Fertitta worked in all phases of the company with his father, Frank Jr. "The casino was a second home to me," he says.

After settling into his new post last year, the younger Fertitta found "interesting challenges" as the company’s new president. "We’ve grown at a rapid pace to become a big company, but we still act like a small company. We tend to make decisions very quickly and try not to be bureaucratic.

"Actually, we still kind of run it like a mom and pop organization in some respects."

Fertitta says the organization features a young management team, which seems conducive to a family atmosphere. "Everybody loves coming to work, we have a lot of fun together, and we’re all friends," he says.

All the qualities any mom and pop would love.