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Gaming Guru

Richard N. Velotta

Landry's Plans Golden Nugget Tower

8 September 2005

LAS VEGAS -- The future owners of the Golden Nugget hotel and casino are planning a new hotel tower in downtown Las Vegas.

Tilman Fertitta, chief executive of Landry's Restaurants Inc., said the expansion also would include two high-end restaurants and a 1,200-seat showroom at downtown's largest hotel.

Fertitta and his Landry's Gaming Inc. subsidiary were recommended for approval for licensing today by the state Gaming Control Board.

Following a 90-minute hearing, the three-member board unanimously recommended approval of the restaurant chain's first gaming license to the Nevada Gaming Commission, which will consider it later this month.

Landry's acquired the Golden Nugget in February for $295 million and later picked up the Golden Nugget Laughlin after a deal to sell it to Barrick Gaming Corp. collapsed.

Feritta is a cousin of Station Casinos Inc. executives Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.

Landry's, owners of the Landry's, Joe's Crab Shack and Rainforest Cafe chains, has 308 restaurants in 36 states. The company also is the nation's second-largest operator of aquariums and plans to develop a swimming pool at the Golden Nugget next to an aquarium so that swimmers can swim within inches of sharks.

Fertitta said the company would ask the city to abandon Carson Street to enable the tower expansion. He said details of the expansion are in the preliminary stages. didn't know rooms, how much cost

Fertitta said he has wanted to operate a casino for years and was just waiting for the right deal to come along. He said with restaurant and entertainment amenities becoming more important in the casino environment, a company that bases its business plan on his speciality is a good fit for the Golden Nugget.

Fertitta said the company would cross-market its casino product with some 50 million Landry's restaurant customers. He said eventually, he hopes to exploit the Golden Nugget brand and develop casinos in other venues nationwide.

The company expects to retain most of the Golden Nugget's 3,600 employees. But it plans to attract mainstream players and not high-rollers like previous owners Tim Poster and Tom Breitling.

"The Golden Nugget is going to cater to the masses," Fertitta said.

Poster and Breitling aggressively courted big-money action in the property's casino. In an attempt to lure high-rollers from the Strip, the landmark casino raised betting limits and put its money at greater risk. A single player won about $9 million from the casino in the third quarter of 2004, a loss that drew a chorus of "we told you so" from more conservative competitors.

Landry's isn't the first restaurant brand to step into the casino business.

A partnership including the co-founder of the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain bought the Aladdin resort out of bankruptcy in 2003 and is redeveloping the property into a movie-themed Planet Hollywood resort. And the developers behind the Hooters restaurant chain last year obtained an ownership stake in the Hotel San Remo with the aim of remaking the property into a Hooters Casino Hotel.

Landry's owns the 40-acre Kemah Boardwalk development of shops, restaurants and amusement rides as well as a 52-room hotel near Houston. Its Downtown Aquarium in Houston features themed water attractions, rides and a white tiger exhibit.

In addition to the casino and hotel, Landry's also will be acquiring the property's namesake attraction, an elongated lump of gold known as the "Hand of Faith." The golden nugget, on display in the hotel lobby, is considered one of the world's largest.