Tag Archives: Golden Nugget



We have described many times how very low interest rates allow for inordinate amounts of debt to prop up companies to a far greater degree than would normally be possible. We’ve followed Tilman Fertitta’s rise to financial prominence ever since his Landry’s Seafood Restaurant chain become publicly held in 1993 with a valuation of $30M. Fertitta has been active ever since. The details between ’93 and ’20 are interesting, and they follow below. The most concise summary is that the 1993 owner of a modest sized group of seafood restaurants 1993 has built over 28 years a huge hospitality company that is coping, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, with over $4 billion of debt.

Lawyers and accountants and investment bankers  working for Tilman Fertitta have made a lot of money in the last 27 years.


1994 – purchased Joe’s Crab Shack
1996 – purchased the San Luis Resort, a 32-acre beachfront resort on Galveston Island
1998 – developed the 35-acre Kemah Boardwalk
2000 – purchased Rainforest Café
2002 – purchased Saltgrass Steak House, Chart House and Muer Restaurants
2003 – opened the Downtown Aquarium, a 20-acre entertainment complex in Houston,  followed by other Aquarium Aquarium restaurants in Denver; Nashville and on  the Kemah Boardwalk
2004 – partnered with the City of Galveston to open a 140,000 square foot convention center
2005 – purchased the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casinos in Las Vegas and Laughlin, has  since opened three additional locations in Atlantic City, Biloxi, Mississippi and Lake Charles, LA
2006 – sold Joe’s Crab Shack, which had acquired Crab House and Cadillac Bar

In mid-2008, as the economy and credit markets were deteriorating, Fertitta took Landry’s private, acquiring the public’s 61% for $415M and assuming $885M in debt, making for an enterprise value of $1.3B.

The ’08-’09 crisis ran its course, interest rates continued downward and Fertitta did not rest.

2010 – purchased Bubba Gump Shrimp, Claim Jumper and Oceanaire
2011– purchased McCormick & Schmick’s and Morton’s Steakhouse
2012 – expanded entertainment division, opening the Galveston Island Pleasure Pier
2013 – acquired Mastro’s restaurants, has also bought and built Landry’s  Signature Group, with Vic & Anthony’s; Grotto; Brenner’s Steakhouse;  Brenner’s on the Bayou; La Griglia; and Willie G’s Seafood
2016 – purchased the BR Guest restaurant Group
2017 – purchased, again, Joe’s Crab Shack, having sold it in 2006
2019 – purchased Restaurants Unlimited, adding Skates on the Bay, Portland City Grill, Manzana Grill, Palisade, Cutters Crabhouse, Stanford’s, Henry’s Tavern,   Kincaid’s, Palomino Restaurant & Bar, and Portland Seafood Company
2019 – purchased Del Frisco’s for $650 million, selling Barteca

Aggressive enough ?


Today Landry’s, Inc. owns and operates more than 600 restaurants, hotels, casinos and entertainment destinations in 35 states and the District of Columbia plus numerous international locations.

In spite of a spectacularly successful career in the dining, entertainment and gambling industries, Fertitta is clearly feeling the heat. We are not privy to the gory financial details, but debt, no matter how low the interest rates, can be a problem when an unexpected pandemic takes revenues down by more than 50%, even for a little while.

To demonstrate how quickly fortunes can turn: Fertitta had reportedly paid himself $300M in 2019 and refinanced his company’s debt so no principal would be due until 2023. Moving right along, in late 2019 he was apparently shopping a 49% stake in the Landry’s/Golden Nugget empire. The pandemic hit in March and everyone’s life changed, Fertitta’s not the least. To his credit, he has been open about the strain, said he was a “big boy”, would solve his own problems and not use government PPP funds. He re-invested $50M out of $200M he had taken out in a dividend just a few months earlier and sold $250M in company debt in April at a 15% interest rate.

Most recently, his attempts to refinance have apparently generated interest in the gaming piece, but the restaurants and destination resorts are an obvious problem. A big issue, predictably, is the debt, now about $4 billion, including $1.4B that was spent to buy the Houston Rockets basketball team. The company is apparently generating about $400M of EBITDA currently (pandemic adjusted?). In any event, quoted debt of anything like ten times EBITDA is pushing the capital raising envelope pretty far.


With all that as background, there are of necessity  some large moving pieces right now as Fertitta, said to be worth $5-6B, tries to maintain solvency for his empire. The SPAC space is hot, and enormously productive for aggressive entrepreneurs, so the three SPACs that Fertitta has recently sponsored can play an important role.

The first recent SPAC sponsored by Fertitta, Landcadia Holdings raised $250M in 2016, and ultimately bought a small food delivery company, Waitr Holdings, now trading as WTRH. This relatively small regional player has grown over the last several years, but at a much slower rate than DoorDash, Uber or Grubhub. Revenues in the current fiscal year will be about $209M , up about 10% YTY, and are estimated to grow modestly to $217M and $232M in the next two years. In contrast to most of the the larger players, WTRH has turned profitable, expected to earn $0.17/share this year and $.19 next year. However, the much smaller size and relatively unexciting growth rate has not led to a high valuation. Unfortunately for Fertitta’s near term financial needs, the stock is trading at $3.40/sh, down from the $10 IPO, and way below a price that would help much.

Fertitta’s second SPAC has done well so far. Landcadia Holdings II came public in May, 2019 at $10/unit, raising over $300M. In mid-2020, Landcadia bought the online gaming portion of Golden Nugget and (GNOG) now trades at about $20/share with an $804M market capitalization. Setting aside the pre-merger expenses, GNOG had $55M in total revenues in 2019 with operating income of $17.7M and Net Income after taxes of $11.7M. The valuation is very high, and some observers feel that GNOG is not as attractive as larger competitors such as DraftKing (DKNG, also the result of a SPAC), but the main thing for Fertitta is that the 4.1M shares that the proxy material says he and his affiliates  own are worth about $80M, and should be, at least partially, liquid.

Fertitta’s third SPAC, currently looking for an acquisition, is Lancadia Holdings III (LCAYU), which raised $500 million on 10/10/20. Co-Chairman of LCAY, along with Fertitta, is Richard Handler who is currently the CEO of Jefferies, the investment banking firm that has been a constant presence throughout the creation of Fertitta’s empire. As stated, “the company plans to target the consumer, dining, hospitality, entertainment, and gaming industries, including technology companies operating in these industries”. The jury is still out on this one. It remains to be seen whether this SPAC buys into any portion of Landrys.


When I was about to write: “Tilman should write a book.” I checked Amazon and it turns out he has. The  title is “Shut Up and Listen! Hard Business Truths that Will Help You Succeed”

I haven’t spoken to Tilman Fertitta in thirty years, haven’t even read his book, so I have no “axe”, but I would not bet against him. His empire would not be easily managed (or efficiently  monetized) by anyone but himself. It’s been said: “If you owe the banks a million dollars, you’ve got a problem. If you (in this case) owe the banks four billion dollars  they’ve got a problem”.  Tilman will lose a lot of sleep, if he hasn’t already, but at the end of the day his company will function long enough for the burden of the pandemic to abate. There are trillions of dollars out there “reaching” for a yield. There will be a price, but some of that capital will most likely reach in Tilman Fertitta’s direction.

Roger Lipton