Tilman Fertitta's advice for future: "Tighten your bootstraps"

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As billionaire Tilman Fertitta promotes the reopening of the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles, he predicts a dismal economic outlook.

"You better tighten your bootstraps because it's not going to be a fun ride over the next couple of years," Fertitta told ABC-13 in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday afternoon at his Houston headquarters.

The restaurant and entertainment mogul, who owns Landrys, Inc. and the Houston Rockets, employs 60,000 people across 60 brands. The shutdowns forced 40,000 furloughs. Today, he is on local and statewide task forces on the phased reopening and takes on the critics who say he's being driven by his bank account.

"You know, I am looking at my bank account. I'm also looking at 60,000 employees' bank accounts and I sure don't want to see anarchy in the streets because we've hurt the food supply chain and no one is working anywhere. From what I can see, we're doing it right. Okay and as long as we keep doing it right, I'm going to agree but I'll be the first one to step and say 'hey, too many people are getting sick, I think it's time to shut down,'" he said.

Fertitta talked about his fears for his employees, his praise for the government's stimulus and how the pandemic has forced new decisions.

"It's such a fine line and I go back and forth myself. At times, I think, 'should everything have stayed shut down another month? Then, what does a month do? What does two months do? What does 3 months do?'" Fertitta said.

His hotel employees are wearing masks and gloves and temperatures are being checked to gain entry to Fertitta's office at Houston's Post Oak Hotel.

On Friday, the restaurants and hotel at the Golden Nugget Lake Charles are reopening, followed by the casino floor on Monday. Louisiana will be the first big gaming market to reopen the United States.

Fertitta is excited those employees can get back to work. He said expect to Plexiglas, masks and social distancing.

"Two or three seats at each table and you won't be able to play a slot machine next to somebody unless, of course, it's part of your group or family member."

From gaming to sports.

"The distraction of sports: that's that part of our psyche, and sports is religion. And, you know, we feel like we have a really good team this year and we're excited to play."

Like all sports fans, Fertitta has missed them, too. The Rockets owner said he would love to see the NBA season resume, if it's what the players want, and even if they play in empty arenas.

"Is it going to be weird not having fans? Yes, but everything we do every day is a little different."

As more of his stores reopen to smaller capacities, Fertitta said 4-5% of his business may not survive. The new normal includes a new business model, he said. He encourages business owners to act now.

"Cut all the costs you can. And you've got to get your landlords to negotiate with you, because it will put you out of business just your occupancy."

RELATED: Golden Nugget Casino in Lake Charles to open Friday.

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