For the first time since 1993, the Houston Rockets have a new owner. Over the summer, Leslie Alexander, who’s owned the Rockets for the past 24 years, decided to step away from his team and sold to Houston businessman Tilman Fertitta, fetching a price tag of $2.2 billion for Houston’s basketball team.
While Houston hockey fans are hoping that the new owner will make an NHL team a reality for Texas’ largest city, Fertitta’s desite to own a hockey team along with the Rockets is just one part of his story. Here are five things that you need to know about Fertitta.
1. He’s Got a Television Show on CNBC
If you’re a fan of the business network in the NBC empire, you’ve probably seen Fertitta’s face before the NBA season began, because he’s been the host of Billion Dollar Buyer, a Shark Tank-like show that has Fertitta listening to pitches and deciding whether to invest in the business or not. Unlike Shark Tank, which features as many as six potential Sharks, Fertitta is the only one making the decisions.
That’s just the way he likes it.
Fertitta’s been the man in charge of the Landry’s casino and restaurant portfolio since buying the company from the Landry brothers, and in each situation since then, he’s gone in and cleaned house to reshape places that he acquires into the vision that he has for their success.
Among his properties include the Morton’s Steak House chain and the Bubba Gump seafood chain, which he tends to place in strategic locations based on the city that’s getting the property. For seafood restaurants, for example, he chooses locations near water whenever possible because of research that says seafood diners like to look out at the water when they eat their meals.
2. He Once Bought a Casino From Donald Trump
Donald Trump’s troubles in Atlantic City, N.J. when the recession struck his casinos were well-documented. When Trump Marina went into bankruptcy protection, the mogul had to sell the property for whatever he could get for it. It was Fertitta and his Landry’s Inc. who ended up with the 45th president’s former casino, purchasing Trump Marina and remaking it into his third Golden Nugget casino.
The Golden Nugget has proven more successful under Fertitta’s ownership for the time being, as it remains open and has seen its value increase to well above the $38 million that Fertitta paid for it in 2011, thanks in large part to investments of nine figures in the property.
However, Fertitta got himself in trouble while in Atlantic City thanks to a regulation that prohibits casino owners from gambling at any casino in New Jersey, not just casinos that they personally own. In 2012, he was caught playing blackjack at a rival casino in Atlantic City and was forced to pay a fine of $15,000 for violating the regulation.
It hasn’t been his last time that he’s had trouble with the law. Earlier this year, Fertitta got himself in trouble in a case involving white tigers at his Landry’s Restaurants. According to a lawsuit against him, the tigers were forced to live in inhumane conditions at Houston’s aquarium, and Fertitta responded by countersuing the group and claiming that the statements were defamatory. Fertitta lost that case and had to pay $170,000 to an animal rights group to cover its legal fees in the lawsuit.
3. He Was an Original Owner of the Houston Texans
When the Oilers left Houston following the 1996 season, Fertitta became part of a group headed by Robert McNair to bring the NFL back to Houston. That group became the team that would eventually become the owners of the league’s 32nd franchise, which became the Houston Texans in 2002.
However, Fertitta would only get to spend six years as a minority owner in the Texans, because NFL rules forced him out prior to the 2008 season. NFL rules prohibit an owner of one of its clubs to own stake in gambling facilities such as casinos, and Fertitta was faced with the choice of selling his casino properties or selling his stake in the Texans. He chose to sell his share of the Texans to McNair, an arrangement that neither he nor McNair was happy with because of his role in bringing the Texans to Houston.
No such rule exists in the NBA, as the Sacramento Kings were previously owned by casino owners Joe and Gavin Maloof. Fertitta has since said that he wouldn’t have paid the price he did for the Rockets for an NFL team, calling the NBA a more global sport and questioning the NFL’s future.
4. His Net Worth is More Than $3 Billion
One of the reasons that the NHL has a reasonable chance to work in Houston is Tilman Fertitta and the financial flexibility he has to absorb any losses and build a market in a non-traditional hockey area. That’s because even after purchasing the Rockets, he’s still an incredibly wealthy man.
Fertitta’s purchase for $2.2 billion leaves him with a net worth of $3.1 billion and the chance to own the one thing that he’s never had the chance to have: controlling interest in a major professional sports franchise.
Had he been a bit higher or a bit more fortunate with his bid the first time he attempted to buy the Rockets, he might have ended up with even more cash to play with as the owner. In 1993, he posted a bid of $81 million to buy the Rockets, losing out to Leslie Alexander’s bid of $85 million. The franchise’ value has increased drastically since the opening of the Toyota Center in 2003 and the removal of the minor-league Houston Aeros, who owned the Rockets’ previous arena, the Summit.
Even with the large purchase, Fertitta’s likely to continue to be flush with cash given his restaurants, casinos, and history of making money. He’s a man who started his gaming empire by purchasing a large number of Pac-Man video game machines and splitting the profits with business owners. After 35 years, he’s moved on to different games, but is still adept at making money.
5. He’s a Family Man
Upon purchasing the Rockets, one of Fertitta’s first acts was to introduce Rockets fans to their next generation of owners, as he intends to pass the team down to his sons and have them learn the business side of basketball while he’s still able to run the team.
Family has always been important to Fertitta, as he got his start in the business world in his father’s restaurant in Galveston, Texas. According to his father, he had a different mindset even then, as he would inform his father if orders were getting to the customers too slowly for his expectations before he had even reached high school.
Family was the main reason Fertitta chose to attend both Texas Tech and the University of Houston (the latter of which he remains a vocal supporter of and donated $20 million to the school’s basketball arena) before dropping out of both schools to put his business knowledge to use and attempt to make it by finding a way to make money. Given where he is now, that gamble seems to have paid off in a big way.