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Tilman Fertitta to buy Hard Rock Lake Tahoe, will convert the casino to a Golden Nugget

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
EconomyGaming
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The company controlled by Golden Nugget casino owner Tilman Fertitta is acquiring Hard Rock Lake Tahoe from Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming for an undisclosed price. 

According to a statement released Friday, privately held Fertitta Entertainment, which is based in Houston, will transform the hotel-casino into a Golden Nugget-branded casino.

The story was first reported late Friday by the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Fertitta owns five Golden Nugget casinos in downtown Las Vegas, Laughlin, Louisiana, Mississippi and Atlantic City. Last year, Fertitta Entertainment acquired the Wildwood Casino and Hotel in Cripple Creek, Colorado for $43 million and plans to rename and rebrand the 100-room property as a Golden Nugget.

“We are thrilled to be welcoming the Lake Tahoe property to the Golden Nugget family,” Fertitta said in a statement. “This acquisition represents a significant opportunity for us to expand our footprint into the Northern Nevada marketplace.”

Nevada gaming regulators need to approve the transaction. The company said in a statement it hopes to close on the purchase in the next seven to 12 months.

Hard Rock Lake Tahoe is the first casino visitors see along Highway 50 as they enter Stateline. The 539-room hotel-casino sits on 24 acres adjacent to picturesque Lake Tahoe and across from Bally’s Lake Tahoe. It is one of four hotel-casinos in the South Lake Tahoe market, which saw gaming revenue increase 5.5 percent in 2022 to $263.6 million.

The property also sits across from the long-planned $80 million Tahoe South Events Center. The 132,000-square-foot facility is being constructed at the corner of U.S. Highway 50 and Lake Parkway and will provide a location to host conferences, sports tournaments and concerts with a capacity of up to 6,000 attendees.

Paragon, which has owned the property since 2015, licensed the Hard Rock name from Hard Rock International’s owner, the Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida, and remodeled the hotel and its 25,000-square-foot casino. The property has hundreds of music memorabilia items that will be returned to Hard Rock.

On Saturday, the casino was the site of a shooting that left one person dead and closed Highway 50 in both directions for a short time. As many as 100 officers from eight law enforcement agencies descended upon the scene as the hotel and casino went into a lockdown, a hotel representative said.

Two people were arrested Saturday and the resort reopened.

The casino floor at Hard Rock Lake Tahoe is seen on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. (Tim Lenard/The Nevada Independent)

First Northern Nevada casino for Fertitta

Fertitta Entertainment owns the NBA’s Houston Rockets, and the company’s Landry’s hospitality divisions include a restaurant segment with roughly 520 outlets and entertainment attractions.

The company is also planning to build a 2,420-room hotel-casino on 6 acres at Harmon Avenue and the Strip that it acquired last year for $270 million.

However, Fertitta told Truist Securities analyst Barry Jonas and clients of the investment firm that he is not rushing forward with the development.

“No firm start date has been set, and management is willing to wait for clarity on economic conditions,” Jonas wrote in a research note last week.

Fertitta told Jonas’ group that plans for the Strip project are ongoing, with a detailed design and construction schedule, and negotiations are in the works on a guaranteed maximum price contract with a contractor.

Fertitta also owns a 6.1 percent stake in Wynn Resorts and more than 13 million shares in DraftKings.

Tilman Fertitta is a cousin of Red Rock Resorts CEO Frank Fertitta III and Vice Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta and is not involved in the company that controls gaming operator Station Casinos.  

Checkered history

Paragon Gaming is controlled by Diana Bennett. She is the daughter of the late casino industry pioneer William Bennett, who developed the Circus Circus Casino brand. They are the only father-daughter duo who are members of the Gaming Hall of Fame.

In a 2019 interview, Bennett said she felt a personal connection to the property because her father started his gaming career at the casino in the 1960s when it was known as Sahara Tahoe.

The property was originally built and operated by Del E. Webb Corp., which also built The Mint in downtown Las Vegas and owned the Sahara Las Vegas during that era.

Del Webb sold Sahara Tahoe in 1990, which began the property’s checkered history. It was known over the years as Sahara Tahoe, High Sierra Resort and Lake Tahoe Horizon. One of its last owners, Columbia Sussex, ran into financial trouble, and the property fell into disarray.

Bennett and her cousin, the late Scott Menke, who was Paragon’s CEO, brought the location back to life.

New amenities were added, including Guitar Plaza, located at the front entrance along Highway 50 adjacent to the Alpine Union Bar and Restaurant. The space is marked by a giant guitar and offers outdoor seating and dining, as well as live and prerecorded music. The patio is the only outside event space in the South Tahoe corridor.

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