Golden Nugget Owner Talks NBA Betting And Atlantic City’s Casino Market

Written By Dave Bontempo on September 23, 2019

Time for a celebratory high five.

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the Houston Rockets and Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget, savors the recent legislative three-pointer delivered in New Jersey.

A bill signed last week by Gov. Phil Murphy, allowing Golden Nugget to accept bets on most NBA games, removed a significant gaming disadvantage for the establishment.

It occurs early in the lucrative NFL season and prior to the NBA campaign, which begins in October. Erasing the roadblock allows Fertitta’s property to market itself on a level playing field.

NBA betting and a victory lap for Golden Nugget AC

Perhaps the impact is “only” in the millions, yet its effect is profound.

“This was a huge development for us and we are excited about it,” Fertitta told a select media audience Saturday at his AC casino.

“This has been a major lost opportunity for us. Look, nobody can come over to here to play all the sports, football, basketball, etc. if a major one of them is not available.”

It was a victory-lap type of day for Fertitta, who spent it at the facility for which he has invested more than $200 million to turn around.

Fertitta answered questions from customers and signed his new book “Shut Up and Listen,” which appears aptly named. Before the book was even released, New Jersey’s government already had.

Murphy’s signature reversed the effects of a provision contained in the original bill that legalized NJ sports betting last year. It had banned team owners from placing or accepting bets on any games involving their sport, thus prohibiting Golden Nugget from offering what its competitors could.

In NBA parlance, it’s like starting a game with three personal fouls.

That restriction included Golden Nugget’s online partner, SugarHouse. In August 2018, PlaySugarHouse Sportsbook was still nested under GN’s online gambling license before it switched to Monmouth’s license in order to offer those NBA bets.

Golden Nugget sportsbook’s location

Golden Nugget’s geographic location dramatized the problem. It is a standalone property in the Marina District, not connected to any other gaming establishments. The smallest lack of enticement compared to competitors hurts business.

Gamblers rarely shuttle between properties to wager different sports or, in the NJ online casino world where Golden Nugget has excelled, switch apps.

Dollars lost is only one barometer. A property can establish a long-term relationship with a customer by being first out of the gate with hot products.

Lost gaming dollars, by extension, hinder state tax revenues.

The bill Murphy recently signed brings New Jersey in line with regulations in Nevada and Mississippi, which also allow Fertitta’s casinos to handle NBA bets that don’t involve the Rockets.

This development stands to bolster Golden Nugget, a market leader in the online space.

“We are strong,” Fertitta said. “You know you are going to have a wide selection of opportunities and you know you are going to get paid by us. Sports betting has an excellent future. Just look at all the fantasy interest coming from it. Look at all the interest from women.”

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Fertitta and the magic number of Atlantic City casinos

Fertitta sparked debate in the resort town last week when he asserted that Atlantic City would fare better with seven casinos, not nine. He amplified the sentiment Saturday.

“The gaming properties need to spread their wealth,” he asserted. “From a competitive standpoint, the operators are monsters. To do well, they have to do more than take in the money. They need funds to put back into the facility.

“What good is it for Atlantic City if you add 5,000 new jobs, say, at Ocean and Hard Rock [both opened last year] and then you have to take away 5,000 jobs somewhere else? This is an excellent market; you just have to do the math regarding how many casinos it can support.”

Fertitta has first-hand knowledge of struggling properties. He told the question-and-answer audience: “You have no idea how close I came in the past to throwing in the towel when the property was negative $15 million and I had to write a check for $1 or 2 million to cover payroll.

“But I saw good people here and we did do much better. This is a tremendous place to do business. Any time you are on the water, which is always something special, nobody can take [that] away from you.”

Fertitta said the book title reflected his sentiment about those who sought his advice and didn’t follow it.

That advice comes from the empire that put him at last count near $5 billion and No. 153 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, along with his visibility on CNBC’s “Billion Dollar Buyer.”

“Shut Up and Listen” lessons include eliminating “no” from one’s vocabulary, acknowledging there are no spare customers, and that “it’s free to be nice. I hate rudeness in our business.”

Soundbites and free throws from Tilman Fertitta

During the Saturday event, Fertitta answered a lot of questions. Here is a sampling of other topics discussed:

  • When a patron asked what was the next hot item to invest in, Fertitta said he expected to make a major announcement before the end of September “but don’t invest in it.”
  • He supported a “Dogs of the Dow” theory of buying dividend stocks of companies after they had a bad year because they often rebound the following year.
  • Fertitta said he doesn’t watch his bank balance “because I don’t want to see what my family is spending.”
  • He brought down the house when asked a political question. Fertitta displayed patented bluntness over being asked when he would run for office. “When I become unethical and a total piece of [garbage],” he said. “A politician does not tell the truth and that’s across the board. It kind of ticks me off, but that’s what we have created. I won’t be a politician. I prefer to tell the truth.”
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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others. He writes significantly about the emerging world of legal New Jersey sports betting.

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