The hiring of Jacqueline Grace last month as Tropicana’s senior vice president and general manager of the Atlantic City casino was — in a way — historic because it wasn’t historic in that city anymore.
Instead, Grace became the fourth woman to run one of the city’s nine casinos, a ratio far exceeding the national average in terms of gender balance.
Grace’s peers are Borgata President Melonie Johnson, Ocean Casino CEO Terry Glebocki, and Bally’s Senior Vice President and General Manager Karie Hall.
The development piqued the interest of Steve Norton, a casino industry consultant who was the first executive ever hired in Atlantic City in 1971, five years before an “Atlantic City casinos-only referendum” passed and seven years before his employer, Resorts, opened the first casino in the city.
Norton’s wife was a physician, but that was hardly typical of the era. He said that she found it difficult to get accepted to medical school in her home of Toronto.
“There was still an attitude in the 1970s that women should stay home and be with their kids,” Norton told NJ Online Gambling. “The laws just favored men.”
Women overlooked — in the executive suite and the law
Norton said that he didn’t recall top executives intentionally discriminating against women as much as them just never even considering such female hires. Casinos are among the most highly regulated industries in the U.S., and Norton said that Atlantic City was no exception.
“There were all kinds of laws passed against discrimination, but they were not as specific to women as they were to minorities,” Norton said.
So in the 1970s and 1980s, while Norton worked at Resorts, there were strict requirements for casinos to seek out minority-owned businesses as potential subcontractors for work — without the same requirement for businesses owned by women.
Still, Norton recalls inducting the late Redenia Gilliam-Mosee as the first female member of the Atlantic City Rotary Club. Gilliam-Mosee, a graduate of Atlantic City High School, began working as a consultant for Bally’s when it opened in 1979, and she remained there as an executive for 20-plus years. In 2016, the American Gaming Association posthumously inducted Gilliam-Mosee into its Hall of Fame.
“She was the face, the voice, and the conscience of the gaming industry in its earliest days in Atlantic City,” Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, told The Press of Atlantic City.
Other female trailblazers
Norton also noted Virginia McDowell, who worked her way up to vice president of business development at Tropicana Atlantic City from 1984-1996. After Norton left Argosy Gaming — which operated riverboat casinos in five states — in 1998, he said McDowell took over many of his executive duties.
“She was excellent,” Norton said.
Another pioneer, Norton added, was Kim Sinatra, chief legal officer for former TV talk show host and casino mogul Merv Griffin in the 1990s when Griffin and now-President Donald Trump engaged in an epic skirmish over various Atlantic City real estate holdings.
Sinatra later became a leading executive for Steve Wynn, playing a key role in Wynn opening a casino in Macau that opened the door for extensive additional U.S. investment in the region.
Gilliam-Mosee was the first Black woman to take on a major executive role in Atlantic City, with Johnson and Grace being the latest successors.
One female exec alleges discrimination
The latest rise of women at the highest levels in Atlantic City also comes at the same time a peer is suing her employer for alleged gender discrimination.
Loretta Pickus, who was a senior vice president and chief legal counsel at Ocean Casino, alleges that she was terminated earlier this year because she insisted that the casino file accurate reports to the Division of Gaming Enforcement clarifying the employment status of the casino’s director of surveillance.
In addition to asserting “whistleblower” status in the lawsuit, Pickus alleged that her bosses told her upon her dismissal that she should have been “softer” and spoken “less harshly” in a meeting with members of the casino’s audit committee.
“The casino would not have told a male General Counsel that he should have spoken more softly and less harshly to the Audit Committee,” Pickus’ attorney wrote.
Norton, who helped write the New Jersey Casino Control Act in 1977, said the rise of women to the highest executive levels of Atlantic City has been a welcome sign.
“I think it’s good for the industry — and more power to them,” Norton said.