Tilman Fertitta, owner of the Golden Nugget Atlantic City, at the casino last April.

Edward Lea

The Texas billionaire who owns the Golden Nugget Atlantic City has gotten himself into a bit of trouble — by gambling at the casinos, of all things.

Tilman Fertitta has agreed to pay a $15,000 fine after he was cited by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforce-ment for playing blackjack at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and at Revel a few times last year.

Fertitta violated a New Jersey regulation that bans holders of a “key casino employee license” from gambling in Atlantic City. Both the Golden Nugget and the Division of Gaming Enforcement said Fertitta was unaware of the ban.

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“He feels bad because he didn’t know he couldn’t gamble in Atlantic City,” Tom Pohlman, Golden Nugget’s general manager, said.

In documents released Tuesday, the division wrote that Fertitta “did not at any time attempt to conceal his actions or gamble with the intent to circumvent the law in New Jersey; rather, he was simply unaware of the prohibition.”

A key license is required of Atlantic City casino officials, such as owners, executives and employees holding essential positions. Dating back decades, New Jersey’s gambling ban on those officials grew out of concern they could collude at the gambling tables or use their power to influence casino employees.

“No other state has a requirement that you can’t gamble if you’re a key license holder,” Pohlman said. “Tilman goes all over the country and all over the world. He is a key license holder in Nevada, and he can gamble there except at his own casino.”

Fertitta, who controls the Houston-based Landry’s Inc. restaurant, casino and entertainment empire, bought the former Trump Marina Hotel Casino in 2011 for $38 million and rebranded it into the Golden Nugget Atlantic City after a $150 million renovation. He also owns Golden Nugget casinos in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nev., and a casino in Biloxi, Miss., that also is being transformed into a Golden Nugget.

In his settlement with the Division of Gaming Enforce-ment, Fertitta acknowledged he played blackjack at Borgata on Aug. 30 and gambled at Revel on April 2 and June 17.

He purchased $2,000 in gambling chips at Borgata and $3,000 worth at Revel on June 17. Regulators said they could not determine how much in chips he purchased at Revel on April 2, the opening day for Atlantic City’s newest casino.

It was after his trip to Borgata that Fertitta first told officials at Golden Nugget that he had gambled, Pohlman said. At that time, Golden Nugget officials let him know of the gambling ban on key license holders.

Pohlman noted that Golden Nugget notified the Division of Gaming Enforcement of Fertitta’s gambling, which ultimately led to an investigation and the fine.

“Fertitta was unaware that, unlike other jurisdictions in which he is licensed, he was prohibited from gambling at other casinos in New Jersey by virtue of his key licensed status,” the division said in its settlement papers with Fertitta.

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