To long-time Station Casinos employees and patrons, Frank Fertitta Jr., the patriarch of the gaming company, was affectionately referred to as “Mr. Fertitta.”
It was a title that came out of respect, said his long-time friends and associates.
“He was not aggressive or loud,” said attorney Frank Schreck, who represented Fertitta since the 1970s. “He was one of the most quiet and polite individuals I ever met. He had an amazing demeanor and his personality and attitude is what made him a success.”
Fertitta, 70, died Friday morning in Los Angeles following heart surgery few weeks ago. He had been hospitalized at the Cedars-Saini Medical Center.
Services are pending.
“No one called him anything other than Mr. Fertitta, and that was simply out of respect,” said Glenn Christenson, Station Casino’s former chief financial officer who began working with Fertitta in 1989.
Family, friends, and business associates said Fertitta’s passing took away one of the gaming industry’s true pioneers, a person whose career bridged the era when organized crime controlled Las Vegas casinos to the advent of corporate ownership and publicly traded casino operators.
He opened and expanded the Palace Station and had bought the land that would eventually house Boulder Station when he retired from Station Casinos in 1993, turning the business over to his sons, Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta. The company then went public.
After leaving the company, Frank Fertitta Jr., privately financed the building of the Texas Station on Rancho Drive in 1994. He sold the property at cost to Station Casinos before its opening in 1995.
Fertitta is credited with pioneering the locals casino market, creating a place that catered to Las Vegas residents and gaming industry employees looking to relax at the end of their shifts.
“I honestly believe that he single-handedly created one of the largest markets in the gaming industry,” Christenson said. “He was also someone who was never willing to accept the recognition he deserved. That’s the type of person he was. He did a lot for the community, but in a very quiet way.”
Fertitta’s first casino was simply called The Casino, a 5,000-square-foot building attached to the Mini-Price Motor Inn on Sahara Avenue, west of Interstate 15.
His friends weren’t initially sure if the property would be a success.
“He created the buffet for locals,” Schreck said. “He brought bingo to locals. It was his idea to create easy access parking. These are commonplace now at every locals casino. That’s why he was a true pioneer.”
The Casino became the Bingo Palace and was renamed Palace Station in 1983.
By the time he parted with the property, the Palace Station went through 13 different expansions because the banking environment was much different in the 1980s. Frank Fertitta Jr. said he lost count of the revisions, but the sons went back and added them up.
“Even though he was making money, it was tough to get loans and expand,” Frank Fertitta III said. “All the expansions were done out of cash flow. We would knock out a wall and add a coffee shop or a fish house or put in more slot machines. Dad’s vision was much grander and well ahead of the times.”
Boulder Station was well under construction when Frank Fertitta Jr. cashed in his chips in 1993.
“The Palace Station was like my baby,” Frank Fertitta Jr. said in a 2006 interview with the Review-Journal, prior to the opening of the $925 million Red Rock Resort.
“It wasn’t easy to give it up,” he said. “What made up my mind was that I could cash out for $265 million, which 13 years ago was a lot of money. I was really able to set up the family for life.”