A Tribute to a Legend

When Steve Norton (l.) passed away a few weeks ago, the industry chugged along, doing what it does best, providing jobs, tax revenue, entertainment and tourism. But none of that would have been possible had it not been for Norton and his groundbreaking idea to bring casinos to the struggling town of Atlantic City.

A Tribute to a Legend

When you talk about the origins of gaming in New Jersey there are a few people who were the main drivers of the legislation. That of course includes the governor at the time, Brendan Byrne and the New Jersey Assemblyman Steve Perskie, who actually wrote the Casino Control Act that codified casino gaming in Atlantic City, which he represented.

And let’s not forget there was no blueprint in those days for legalizing casinos. Only Nevada at that time hosted legal casinos and that legislation was almost 50 years old then, so not at all applicable to 1976 New Jersey.

But the man who pushed for casinos from the commercial side was a quiet and self-effacing individual who had remarkable persuasive powers as well as a mind like steel trap, Steve Norton.

Along with Jack Davis and Jim Crosby, Norton crisscrossed the state prior to the 1974 referendum which would have permitted gambling in any location with the OK of local voters. When that referendum failed, they came back in 1976 with another initiative that limited casino gambling to Atlantic City, and the voters approved.

Norton’s quiet, influential and factual details ruled the day, and he was then named executive vice president of Resorts International, which opened on Memorial Day in 1978 and the race was on. Resorts held a monopoly on gaming in New Jersey for 13 months until Caesars Boardwalk Regency opened the next year. At one time there were 12 Atlantic City casinos; today there are nine.

His experience in New Jersey led to roles in gaming legalization in more than a dozen states and jurisdictions— Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri to name a few, and he also advised governments on establishing casinos in Singapore, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Andorra, the Netherlands, Antilles and others.

Norton was also one of the founders of the American Gaming Association, recognizing a need for the gaming industry to have a presence in Washington. That foresight was rewarded when just a couple of years after its founding, Congress decided to investigate gaming with the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. The two-year study was heavily influenced by the AGA, which provided the board with the facts about the industry rather than conjecture.

Norton was well known throughout the industry and was a frequent speaker at industry trade shows and conferences. His son, Rob Norton, is president of Cordish Gaming and has played a major role in the development of the Live! casino brand that company owns. While Steve Norton’s passing leaves a hole in the history of gaming, his son and his followers will forever be his legacy in the industry.

Articles by Author: Roger Gros

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry’s leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows.
Roger Gros is the author of the best-selling book, "How to Win at Casino Gambling" (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named “Businessman of the Year” for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012 as part of the annual AGA Communications Awards.