Steve Callender was there when Atlantic City took its first bet. Forty-three years later, the longtime casino executive says he’s ready to retire.
Callender’s career in New Jersey’s gaming industry began the same day gambling went operational in Atlantic City — May 28, 1978. Resorts was the first casino to open.
Fresh out of college, Callender was one of the lucky 500 people who landed jobs at the Boardwalk casino from the more than 10,000 who had applied.
I was lucky enough to be selected, and they taught me how to deal. It was the first craps game I had ever seen, and I was dealing it,” the now 66-year-old Callender told the Associated Press this week.
Callender worked his way up the corporate ladder, overseeing numerous properties in town over the decades. He most recently served as senior vice president of operations of Eldorado Resorts’ Eastern Division. Following the company’s merger with Caesars Entertainment, he became regional president of the combined group.
Callender’s retirement will become effective at the end of the month. He says he’s looking forward to spending time with his family and grandchildren, golfing, and attending a Philadelphia Phillies game here and there.
Big Loss for City
Callender is one of the longest-serving casino executives in Atlantic City. He also led the Casino Association of New Jersey, the region’s leading lobbyist group in Trenton, since 2019.
His departure leaves Caesars, as well as the entire Atlantic City gaming industry, with a large void to fill. Caesars, which owns three casinos in town — Caesars, Harrah’s, and Tropicana — did not immediately name an interim replacement.
Callender has been there for Atlantic City’s highs and its lows. Five casinos closed between 2014 and 2016. The gaming town found some sense of stability in 2018 and 2019, becoming a nine-casino town. But then COVID-19 hit.
Brick-and-mortar gross gaming revenue (GGR) totaled $1.5 billion last year — a 44 percent drop from 2019. Thousands of gaming industry workers were furloughed or permanently laid off.
Callender, however, is optimistic about Atlantic City’s future.
“There’s so much pent-up demand,” he said. “Many of our older customers have gotten their shots and they’re coming back. People will continue to come.”
Just in time for the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) allowed indoor dining capacity to increase from 35 percent to 50 percent. Casino floors are now operating at 50 percent capacity, too.
Casino floors are also back to operating around the clock, with food and beverage service available 24/7.
Leading up to the basketball tournament last year, Atlantic City seemed to be unstoppable,” Callender said earlier this month. “We were on a 21-month winning streak of revenue growth, our sportsbooks topped Nevada’s, and our diverse offerings were attracting new visitors.
“Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the national college basketball championship was canceled, stay-at-home orders were issued and our casinos were closed for almost four months,” he added. “As the spring and summer seasons approach and the vaccine is distributed, we are optimistic about the future as we work to bring more people back to work and continue revitalizing Atlantic City’s economy.”
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