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Tilman Fertitta says he was surprised by the strength of his restaurants and casinos in March

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Billionaire restaurateur and casino operator Tilman Fertitta told UKTN on Tuesday he was caught off guard by the force 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 surprise us in the 40 states in which we do business,” said Fertitta, president 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 there are no business travelers, people are still going out in droves now,” he said. “In Texas and Florida they just blow up the numbers. People are tired of being locked up.”

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Hours before Fertitta’s remarks, the Conference Board released its Consumer Confidence Index for March, which hit its highest level since the start of the Covid pandemic last year. It represented another data point confirming expectations of a strong economic rebound following the health crisis, which particularly hit restaurants and the hospitality sector.

In an interview with UKTN on Wednesday, Barry Sternlicht, chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, said he sees positive economic signs in Miami, where his investment firm is based, and the surrounding areas. He said one of his company’s hotels, 1 Hotel South Beach, was “early in February of this year, before 2019”.

“We’re seeing all of this pent-up demand coming back. It’s going to be a frenzy this summer,” Sternlicht said on “Squawk Box”.

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“March has been amazing,” Jay Snowden, CEO of casino operator Penn National Gaming, told UKTN on March 23. “What we’re seeing in the business right now … is revenue and volumes that I haven’t. Seen in years.”

The rebound in economic activity comes as top U.S. health officials continued to urge caution, saying the country has not yet emerged from the pandemic forest despite advances in vaccines.

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“We have so much to hope for, so much promise and potential from where we are and so much reason to hope, but for now, I’m afraid,” Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. the country’s case count is going in the wrong direction.

In 29 states plus Washington, DC, the weekly average of new daily Covid infections is increasing. Overall, the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases per day in the country is up 23%, to nearly 66,000, from a week ago. It remains well below the national peak in January.

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Along with Covid vaccines making consumers feel more comfortable going out, another factor that may be contributing to consumer spending right now is the latest round of stimulus checks. Americans started receiving them earlier this month, and the IRS said last week that about 127 million people received the third direct payment.

Fertitta said it was difficult to determine to what extent his companies saw a temporary surge related to stimulus checks. However, he said, “I’m telling you, the high end restaurants, my hotels, the casinos, have record numbers right now.”

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