Tilman Fertitta

Houston Rockets Sold to Golden Nugget Owner Tilman Fertitta

Tilman Fertitta, owner of Landry’s, Inc., one of the largest restaurant companies in the United States, as well as Golden Nugget Casinos and Hotels, has purchased the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA) for $2.2 billion. That dollar figure, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, makes it the largest purchase price for an NBA franchise in history, topping Steve Ballmer’s acquisition of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 for $2 billion.

Fertitta is originally from Galveston, Texas, just southeast of Houston. He attended both Texas Tech University and the University of Houston and the foundation of his business empire started in the Houston area. He is a Houstonian through and through, which – along with the price he offered – made him an easy pick for current Rockets owner, Leslie Alexander, as Alexander wanted to make sure the team stayed in Houston.

“I am excited to welcome and pass the torch to Tilman,” Alexander said in a press release issued by the Rockets. “He is a Houstonian, business leader and committed to the success and excellence of the Rockets both on and off the basketball court. I have personally known Tilman for over 24 years and don’t think I could have found anyone more capable of continuing the winning tradition of our Houston Rockets.”

Tilman Fertitta himself had this to say:

I am truly honored to have been chosen as the next owner of the Houston Rockets.  This is a life-long dream come true. Leslie Alexander has been one of the best owners in all of sports, and I thank him immensely for this opportunity. He has the heart of a champion. Lastly, out of respect for the NBA’s approval process, I can say no more other than I am overwhelmed with emotion to have this opportunity in my beloved city of Houston.

Though professional sports teams generally try to stay away from any gambling associations, Fertitta won’t be the first NBA owner to have made much of his fortune from casinos. The most notable in recent memory were the previous owners of the Sacramento Kings, the Maloof family, which owned the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. The family sold the Kings to a group led by Vivek Ranadive in 2013. Currently, one of the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, Marc Lasry, is the CEO of Avenue Capital Group, which partnered with 888 Holdings to create the All American Poker Network (AAPN) in 2013.

Gambling also runs in the Fertitta Family. Tilman’s third cousins, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, own nearly half of Stations Casinos (Frank is CEO). One of Stations Casinos’ subsidiaries is Fertitta Interactive LLC, which operated Ultimate Poker, the first regulated, licensed online poker room in the United States.

Tilman Fertitta also has a history in U.S. professional sports. He was an advisory director of the Rockets during the team’s 1993-1994 and 1994-1995 NBA Championship seasons and did try to purchase the team in 1993, bidding just $4 million less than did Leslie Alexander.

Fertitta was one of the original investors in the Houston Texans, which joined the NFL in 1999, three years after the Oilers left the city for Nashville (becoming the Titans in 1999). The Texans began play in 2002; Fertitta was forced to sell his share of the team in 2008 because NFL rules stated that nobody on a team’s staff could be associated with gambling.

He is also tangentially involved with the Houston Astros, having acquired the naming rights to Minute Maid Park’s Crawford Boxes seating section past the left field wall. In 2003, that area became “Landry’s Crawford Boxes,” reflecting Fertitta’s restaurant company.

The sale of the Houston Rockets is still pending approval of the NBA’s Board of Governors, but there is no indication that there will be any hiccups at this point. The deal also hands the Toyota Center, the home arena of the Rockets, to Fertitta.

The one spot where it looks like Fertitta’s ownership of the Golden Nugget will come into play is that if the sale is approved, the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas will not be permitted to take bets on Rockets games.

As mentioned,  professional sports leagues have historically distanced themselves from gambling. The NBA, though, has easily been the most open to embracing sports betting in recent years. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has stated on multiple occasions that accepting sports betting may very well be the smart move for the league, as sports fans clearly enjoy wagering on games. He has noted that sports betting works well in regulated markets in Europe, so there is no reason – provided the proper regulations and protections are in place – that it couldn’t work in the United States.

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