US Economy

Tilman Fertitta says he's been surprised by strength of his restaurants and casinos in March

Key Points
  • Landry's Chairman and CEO Tilman Fertitta said Tuesday he has been surprised by the strength of his businesses in March.
  • "The high-end restaurants, my hotels, the casinos, are having record numbers right now," Fertitta said.
  • Fertitta's comments offer further insight into consumer confidence in the U.S. economy as states roll back Covid pandemic restrictions.
Tilman Fertitta on the restaurant industry and stimulus impact

Billionaire restaurateur and casino operator Tilman Fertitta told CNBC on Tuesday he's been caught off guard by the strength of his businesses in March.

His comments on "Power Lunch" offer further insight into consumer confidence in the U.S. economy as states roll back pandemic-era restrictions and more Americans are vaccinated against Covid.

"Our numbers in March are surprising to us in all 40 states that we do business in," said Fertitta, chairman and CEO of Houston-based Landry's, whose restaurants include Joe's Crab Shack and Morton's The Steakhouse. Fertitta also owns the Golden Nugget brand of casinos and hotels.

"Even in California and New York, where you don't have the business traveler, people are still going out in huge numbers now," he said. "In Texas and Florida, they're just blowing numbers away. People are tired of being locked up."

Hours before Fertitta's remarks, the Conference Board released its consumer confidence index for March, which jumped to its highest level since the Covid pandemic began last year. It represented yet another data point backing up expectations for a strong economic rebound from the health crisis, which hit restaurants and the hospitality sector particularly hard.

In a CNBC interview Wednesday, Barry Sternlicht, the chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, said he was seeing positive economic signs in Miami, where his investment firm is based, and nearby areas. He said that one of his company's hotels, 1 Hotel South Beach, was "ahead in February of this year, ahead of 2019."

"We see all of this pent-up demand coming back. It's going to be a frenzy this summer," Sternlicht said on "Squawk Box."

"The month of March has been incredible," Jay Snowden, CEO of casino operator Penn National Gaming, told CNBC on March 23. "What we're seeing right now in the business ... is revenues and volumes that I haven't seen in years."

The uptick in economic activity comes as top U.S. health officials have continued to urge caution, saying the country is not yet out of the pandemic woods despite vaccine progress. 

"We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope, but right now I'm scared," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday, warning the country's case counts are going in the wrong direction. 

In 29 states, plus Washington, D.C., the weekly average of new daily Covid infections is rising. Overall, the country's seven-day average of new coronavirus cases per day is up 23%, to nearly 66,000, compared with one week ago. It remains well below the nation's January peak. 

In addition to Covid vaccines allowing consumers to feel more comfortable venturing out, another factor likely contributing to consumer spending right now is the latest round of stimulus checks. Americans began receiving them earlier this month, and the IRS said last week roughly 127 million people have gotten the third direct payment.

Fertitta said it's tough to determine how much of what his businesses are seeing is a temporary surge related to the stimulus checks. However, he said, "I'm telling you, the high-end restaurants, my hotels, the casinos, are having record numbers right now."

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