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Golden Nugget makes it official

That old saw about not being able to judge a book by its cover was certainly true Thursday in Atlantic City.

That old saw about not being able to judge a book by its cover was certainly true Thursday in Atlantic City.

While the fog was so thick it covered the town in a gloomy gray blanket and rendered Golden Nugget Atlantic City invisible from the Expressway, inside the bayside gaming hall it was a far different story. There, it was nothing but sunshine and blue skies as, with a snip of a gold ribbon and the popping of a champagne cork,  the casino officially opened.

Tilman Fertitta, whose Houston-based hospitality conglomerate, Landry's Inc., purchased the former Trump Marina 11 months ago for $38 million, presided over the brief celebration that marked the completion of a dramatic $150 million makeover. The work has transformed what was a beat-up, neglected and failing hotel-casino complex into a glittering, amenity-filled property positioned to be highly competitive in the Atlantic City market.

Making the project all the more remarkable was Fertitta's insistence on keeping the doors open throughout the reconstruction.

"To take a big, old building like this and make it into what it is today…we feel a sense of accomplishment said Fertitta, 54, when asked how he was feeling. He had originally planned to christen the complex in February, but delays caused primarily by state-imposed red tape added two months to the project.

Fertitta, who oversees such restaurant chains as Chart House, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Morton's The Steakhouse, reaffirmed his confidence in Atlantic City's beleaguered gambling realm, and suggested he's not out to "dominate" the market or force any other casinos to close. "The market is gonna continue to grow, he said in his Texas drawl. "I think it's gonna be great.

"What I saw (when he bought the Marina) was a $3 billion-plus (a year) gaming market," continued the tycoon who has docked his yacht "Boardwalk," which cost a reported $200 million, at the adjacent Frank S. Farley Marina for the summer. "I figured I could…get a little piece of the pie. That's all I need, a little piece of the pie."

Fertitta also pledged he intends to keep possession of the Nugget for a long time. "I'm not a 'flipper,' I'm a buyer," he told the crowd. "Twenty years from now, you'll still see me here."

Thursday's program, which was witnessed by hundreds of Golden Nugget staffers and customers, featured the security- heavy arrival of the "Hand of Faith," the 61-pound specimen that is the world's largest gold nugget (it is usually on display at Golden Nugget Las Vegas). The festivities kicked off a four-day Grand Opening celebration that includes free daredevil exhibitions and separate performances by rock band Three Doors Down, comic Whoopi Goldberg, the Pink Floyd tribute act, The Machine, and country stalwarts The Oak Ridge Boys.