Gambling pioneer Steve Norton, who ran first US casino outside Nevada, dies at age 89

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Steve Norton, who ran the first U.S. gambling facility outside Nevada — Resorts casino in Atlantic City — and gave advice around the world on how to set up and operate casinos, has died. He was 89.

His son, Rob, president of Cordish Gaming, said Norton died on Sunday following an accident in his Oceanside, California, home.

Norton spent more than half a century in the casino industry, running companies and advising state governments on the expansion of gambling, including on riverboats. He helped create the industry's national trade association and worked to address gambling addiction.

“Steve was an early and influential gaming executive in Atlantic City and at Resorts,” said the casino's current president, Mark Giannantonio. “He was an important leader in the Atlantic City market dating back to the 1970s. He was always a pleasure to speak with over the years, and a true gentleman in our business.”

Norton was executive vice president of Resorts when the New Jersey casino opened on May 26, 1978. The Boardwalk casino was inundated by thousands of people trying to get inside, and authorities considered diverting traffic trying to enter Atlantic City to ease crowd control.

People bought tickets for buffets they had no intention of eating just so they could sneak inside the casino before anyone else. Men relieved themselves into plastic coin cups to avoid losing their spots at the tables. And cash — more than anyone had ever seen and more than management could imagine — flooded into the counting room, taking an entire day to count.

“It was incredible, it was a madhouse,” Norton told The Associated Press in 2022. “There were so many cigarettes stubbed out on the floor that before long you couldn’t tell what color the carpet was.”

Resorts held a monopoly outside Nevada for 13 months until Atlantic City started adding new casinos; there currently are nine.

“Steve was instrumental in the proliferation of gaming expansion that occurred outside Nevada,” said his son, Rob. “In New Jersey, he personally identified the opportunity, did the market feasibility and economic impact studies, and worked with the legislators and Attorney General’s office in drafting the Casino Control Act and the regulations that allowed casinos to open in 1978.”

Before working for Resorts, Norton worked in the hotel industry in the Bahamas. He later worked for Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. in Las Vegas, and served as president of Gold River Gaming and Argosy Gaming.

Norton used his experience as an Atlantic City casino pioneer to advise state governments — including in Louisiana, Illinois and Indiana — on how to adopt riverboat gambling, and in 1998 founded his own gambling consultancy company based in Indiana.

He also advised authorities in Singapore, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Andorra, and the Netherlands Antilles on establishing or operating gambling facilities.

Norton helped create the American Gaming Association, the industry's trade group, and was the only founding director from outside Nevada, his son said.

“He recognized early that the industry’s biggest threat to growth was the issue of problem gaming, so he led the charge in changing the way the industry addresses the critical issue and helped create the first programs that embraced education, recognition, and treatment, of the disease,” his son said.


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