At the recent opening of the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino is Biloxi, the emcee introduced "Mr. Tilman Fertitta" to the enthusiastic crowd. "That was great, except for the mister," Fertitta said in his "aw shucks" way. "I'm just Tilman to everybody."
Although he is firmly ensconced on the Forbes billionaires list as the 235th richest person in the United States with a net worth of $2.4 billion, Fertitta likes to think of himself as a regular guy — with a lot of expensive toys.
Unlike some billionaires who are reclusive and secretive, Fertitta likes to show off the fruits of this labor. When he flew a group of journalists to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the day to see the new hotel, we got a first-hand glimpse of the 56-year-old entrepreneur's good life.
The day began at Landry's private terminal near Hobby Airport where we boarded Fertitta's Gulfstream GV jet. It can carry 16 passengers in comfort on distances up to 6,500 miles.
Two pilots commanded the plane on the 75-minute flight from Houston to Biloxi. (It was one of the few times I've been on a plane and wished the flight were longer.)
Up in the clouds as seen from the jet window. Fertitta owns two planes; the other one was being used to whisk a high roller from Atlantic City to Las Vegas.
Landry's general counsel Steve Scheinthal showed me the nifty screen, which displays the view from underneath the plane, where cameras are mounted, during the flight.
The roomy interior has plush leather seats. Snacks are considerably better than on commercial flights.
The bathroom fixtures are bronze-plated. The toilet is hidden inside a comfortable leather chair, which took me a few moments to figure out.
After attending the hotel grand opening and touring the property, we were whisked to Fertitta's yacht, the Boardwalk, by limousine, even though it was located only a few hundred yards from the hotel.
Shown here, a view of the yacht from the limo.
Named for the popular Kemah Boardwalk amusement complex that is part of Fertitta's entertainment empire, the yacht can accommodate up to 12 guests overnight in six cabins.
Before walking the gangplank, we removed our shoes and were given terrycloth slippers emblazoned with the Golden Nugget logo. A no-shoes policy is standard throughout the yachting world to protect fragile teak decks.
The Boardwalk, shown here in a CultureMap file photo when it was docked in Galveston for the 2011 Mardi Gras celebration, stretches 164 feet.
Large windows offer views of nearby boats in the Biloxi marina.
The yacht has spacious interiors, including a large dining area, a vast master suite, individual cabins for each of Fertitta's four children and a spectacular guest suite.
Modern sculptures are incorporated into the decor.
A top deck has room for a jacuzzi.
The yacht flies under the flag of the Bahamas because restrictions make it practically impossible to register a yacht in the United States, Fertitta said. A few years ago he was working with then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to introduce a bill in Congress to streamline regulations, but those plans were dropped after Giffords was shot. (She and husband Mark Kelly remain closed friends of Fertitta.)
While the Bahamian flag waves from the back, Fertitta flies a Texas flag and the U.S. flag atop the yacht.
A lounging area at the top of the yacht sports pillows emblazoned with the Boardwalk name.
A close-up of the Boardwalk pillow.
The Boardwalk has a crew of eight that keeps the vessel is ship-shape condition. That includes the helipad on top.
Fertitta, left, welcomed reporters and guests on the yacht for drinks and posed for photos.
After leaving the yacht, we headed for the company jet for a quick return to Houston — all in a day's work.