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Rob Norton

President, Cordish Gaming Group

Rob Norton

Rob Norton comes from great gaming roots. His father, Steve Norton, played a pivotal role in the expansion of gaming, starting in Atlantic City, spreading to the Midwest, and then around the world. Rob Norton joined Cordish Gaming Group in 2011 as president of Maryland Live!, and later was appointed president of the entire group with casinos now in Maryland and Philadelphia. The company recently bought the former Diamond Jacks Casino in Bossier City that is transforming into Louisiana Live! and won a license to run a casino in Petersburg, Virginia.

Norton spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros during a break at the East Coast Gaming Congress at the Hard Rock Atlantic City in April. To hear and view a full version of this GGB Podcast, where Norton discusses the smoking ban, the Cordish culture and the impact of his father on the industry, visit the podcast episode.

GGB: It’s been a busy year for Cordish. Let’s start with Louisiana, where you’re taking over the former Diamond Jacks casino in Bossier City. What made it so attractive to Cordish?

Norton: This was one of the original Isle of Capri properties back when I was with Isle. Actually, after Hurricane Katrina, I had an opportunity to live in that hotel for about six months while the company was recovering. So I knew the property, I knew the market very well. We knew the Foundation Gaming guys (who were running the property prior to the sale), who were all ex-Isle of Capri executives. And so we started talking about how we could work together on that opportunity. And at the same time, Texas Live! in Arlington was starting to take off. The growth there has been unbelievable, so we started to recognize that the brand Live! down there in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is starting to get some real traction. And we saw the opportunity to bring that into western Louisiana and take advantage of the great bones in the old Isle and Diamond Jacks property.

So the good news is Texas is a main market. The bad news is Texas is a main market and now they’re considering legalizing gaming there. Las Vegas Sands has already started a campaign. Are you worried about that?

Any time that you are in a market like Bossier City and counting on Texas as part of the revenue stream, you have to be concerned. I do think, though, that there’s a lot of complexity to get legislation through, and we’ll be open in less than a year now. Our goal is to focus on what we can control in front of us and to deliver the best experience that we can deliver. We think if we do this, the returns and the opportunity for a solid investment will play out just fine.

Cordish won a bid to build a casino in Petersburg, Virginia. This is across river from Richmond, where you had just lost out in a previous bid to get a casino there. What did you learn in Richmond that you applied in Petersburg?

We are proud of what we had put forth in Richmond. We definitely thought that we had the best proposal, but we respect the city’s decision. They went forward with another operator, and unfortunately they were not able to pass the referendum twice.

We are excited about the opportunity in Petersburg. We definitely have the best site and the best proposal but we’re still not all the way there. The state is in session right now dealing with the reenactment clause and the amendments from the governor. As far as moving forward in Petersburg, that’s left to the city and the voters. There can be a referendum as early as this November.

There is now online sports betting in Maryland. I was surprised to hear you say that it actually hurt your casino when the online element came on. Explain how that happened.

In Maryland, when they passed the law, they did it in a way that online took longer to launch than the bricks-and-mortar sports betting. So we were able to get the bricks-and-mortar sports betting up and running really quickly. We had about a year head start where we had retail sports betting before digital sports betting. And during that year, we saw unbelievable impact there. There were hundreds of people standing in line every Sunday trying to make bets on football. And we saw substantial revenue growth from sports betting. There was a lot of growth in table games and to a little bit lesser extent slots. Poker as well. And food and beverage was up, and it really was across the board. And then you flash forward a year later, digital comes online, and all of a sudden sports betting in the retail environment is down 65 percent across the whole state. We were worse than that. It definitely showed that there was an exodus of visitation from the casino as a result of that.

Maryland also this year considered adding iGaming to the mix, and Cordish opposed that?

We studied the iGaming market with no agenda, because we offer iGaming in Pennsylvania. We actually opened iGaming in Pennsylvania before we opened the casinos. But as we studied it, we kept coming back to the fact there was a clear cannibalization that was happening in the casinos. We create destination resorts that are centers for people to gather. We create community centers. We create opportunities for jobs and advancement and life-changing situations. So we started to think that this type of business is detrimental to our core business, and the reasons we do the core businesses are potentially at risk. It made us concerned about whether the quick dollar was worth the grab versus staying the course on the long-term vision.

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. He 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.

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