Veteran Atlantic City casino executive Steve Callender retires from Caesars Entertainment
By WAYNE PARRY Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Steve Callender, who went from being a rookie craps dealer on the first day gambling was legal in New Jersey to a senior executive of one of the nation’s biggest casino companies, said Friday he is retiring after nearly 43 years in the business.
Callender, 66, is eastern regional president of Caesars Entertainment, and has been a longtime executive at Atlantic City’s Tropicana casino.
He began his casino career as a craps dealer at Resorts casino on the day it opened in May 1978 as the only legal U.S. casino outside Nevada.
“I had just graduated from college, and 10,000 people had applied for 500 jobs,” he said. “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.”
Callender learned the business from the bottom up, rising from dealer to become vice president of casino operations at Resorts. In a decadeslong career spent in Atlantic City, he also worked for the Atlantic City Hilton and Bally’s in addition to Tropicana.
He most recently helped Eldorado Gaming carry out its merger with Caesars Entertainment under the Caesars brand.
Callender also is president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, the trade group representing the Atlantic City casinos. In that role he served as cheerleader-in-chief, a strategist for policies that help the resort as a whole, as well as a go-to contact with state officials on matters involving Atlantic City and the gambling industry.
He has seen it all in Atlantic City: The rapid, dizzying rise of casinos when New Jersey had a monopoly on East Coast gambling and revenues soared, the painful crash as competitors popping up all around Atlantic City drained away so much business that five of the 12 casinos shut down (there currently are nine), and the nascent recovery from that painful period as Atlantic City became a smaller market adjusting to the new economic realities.
He has been a vocal champion of Atlantic City’s health and safety protocols as the casinos reopened last July after 3 1/2 months of being closed due to the coronavirus shutdown. And he has repeatedly pushed state officials to loosen the virus-related restrictions on occupancy that remain on the casinos, arguing that the gambling halls have demonstrated they can operate safely.
Callender is optimistic about Atlantic City’s near and long-term prospects.
“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.”
A resident of Brigantine, just outside Atlantic City, Callender said he looks forward to driving his grandchildren to sports practices and games, and taking in some Philadelphia Phillies games in between rounds of golf and travel with his wife.
The company has not named a successor.
Follow Wayne Parry at @WayneParryAC