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.