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Normandie Casino History

The Normandie Casino has been family owned and operated by the Miller family since 1947, and it is currently one of the few family-owned casinos in the country. The Normandie is also famous for being the only original Southern California card club still in existence today.  

Just a few years after the first big casino was built in Las Vegas and before Indian casinos began dotting the Southern California landscape, the Western Club opened its doors in Gardena in 1940. Seven years later, in 1947, the Western Club was renamed the Normandie and Russ Miller became an owner.

Russ Miller, founder of the Normandie Casino

Russ Miller, patriarch of the Miller family and founder of the Normandie Casino, was a true pioneer of the gaming industry in California. He was selected to appear on the Gardena Wall of Fame in 1998, and in the Fall of 2007, Russ Miller was inducted into the Golden State Gaming Association Hall of Fame for his innovation and dedication to California gaming.

Unfortunately, both Russ Miller and his wife Mary have passed away, but over the years prior they brought their four sons--Lee, Larry, Greg, and Steve -- into the family business. Today, their four sons and grand children continue the family legacy while they manage and run the day-to-day operations of the casino.

The following is a brief history on how gambling became legal in California and how the Normandie Casino played an important role in that process.

In the 1880s, a law was passed in California that outlawed all forms of gambling except poker. The lawmakers of that day liked their poker, so they left it out of the law. Ernie Primm, the entrepreneur who expanded this legal loophole into Gardena's multimillion-dollar poker industry, founded the first card club in 1936.

A few years later, law enforcement officials closed him down for being a public nuisance. Primm sued, taking the case to the California Supreme Court. His lawyer convinced the court that what wasn't specifically cited as illegal in the California Penal Code must be legal. Primm won the case, and Gardena licensed clubs in 1938 by local option.

Only five-card draw and lowball poker could be played at that time. In those early years, Russ Miller worked as a doorman for Ernie Primm. With his knowledge of the games, he was soon made a supervising Floorman. In time, he became a partner in Primm's club.

In 1940, the Western Club opened on Western Avenue. Seven years later, the club was renamed the Normandie, and Russ Miller became an owner. As the city grew, so did the card clubs. Their license fees provided most of the money needed to operate the city.

Mary Miller, founder of the
"B or Better Foundation."

In addition, the clubs donated funds for Gardena's first community center building, bus line, and swimming pool, and provided playground equipment for the city parks. Every Christmas, the card clubs donated the food and employees donated their time to feed the needy in the city. Donations have always been made to local charities and organizations.

During the 1960s, Gardena boasted six luxurious card clubs. It was in fact the only city in Los Angeles County to have legal gambling. The clubs flourished until 1980, when the Bell Club in the city of Bell, California, opened. Other cities soon followed suit, and the Gardena monopoly on card gaming came to an end.

In 1980, Russ Miller decided to move the Normandie Casino to a better location near the 110 Harbor Freeway at Rosecrans and Vermont. A new 50,000-square-foot casino was constructed, along with a Las Vegas-style entertainment venue billed as "The Million Dollar Showroom". A few years later after hard fought legal battles in court, Seven-card Stud and Texas Hold-em were added to the already existing lineup of games, Five-card Draw and Lowball.

In the mid-1980s, a tremendous Asian influence came with the introduction of the California games, including Blackjack, Pai Gow Poker, and Super 9, a game similar to Baccarat. The Normandie completely revamped its restaurant to accommodate a variety of Asian tastes: Mandarin, Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean, along with a standard Continental menu.   The Normandie Casino opened its famous Red Dragon Room which featured high-limit Asian games.   The Red Dragon Room, with its additional outdoor patio, continues to be one of the most popular Asian gaming rooms in Los Angeles today. The casino is also host to a luxurious V.I.P. Blackjack and Baccarat Room, a first in Southern California.

Unfortunately, in 1997, at the age of 90, Russ Miller passed away. Four years later his wife, Mary, died at the age of 78.   But over the years prior they brought their four sons into the family business--Lee, Larry, Greg, and Steve. Today, their four sons and grand children continue the family legacy while they manage and run the day-to-day operations of the casino. Frequently, they can be seen walking about the casino greeting guests. Under their management, the Normandie continues to expand and improve.   After more than 60 years, the Normandie is still a family-run business, and it is still the only original card club remaining in Southern California.


The Normandie Casino prides itself in being a community partner in the City of Gardena as well as in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County.   We are committed to work in close partnership with our community by embracing our community's needs as our own. The following categories list the community groups we are involved with, the charities we support, the events that we sponsor, and the contributions that we make to the community as well as our own employees.


Gardena Valley Kiwanis, Carson Gardena Dominguez Rotary, Gardena Valley Lions, Carson Gardena YMCA, Gardena YWCA, Elks Lodge 1919, Gardena High School Scholarship, Gardena Willows Association, City of Gardena Recreation Sports Advisory Board, Gardena Valley Chamber of Commerce, Gardena Cinco de Mayo Committee, Gardena Valley Democratic Club.


Gardena YWCA, We Tip, St. Anthony of Padua School,  United Way, South Bay Diabetes Association, Serra High School, Gardena Senior Citizens Bureau, Gardena Pioneer Project (Japanese Americans), YMCA, Gardena Police Officers Association, Gardena Police Foundation, and the Gardena High School "Close-up" Program (students traveling to Washington D.C.).


Rotary Chili-Cook-Off Car Show, City of Gardena Heritage Festival, Cinco de Mayo Parade, Martin Luther King Parade, Gardena Jazz Festival, South Bay Workforce Job Faire (Gardena, Lawndale, Hawthorne and El Segundo), City of Gardena Sports Advisory Board Carnival, "B or Better Scholarship" Award Dinner.


In addition to donating thousands of dollars each year to various and diverse organizations in the community, the Normandie Casino also donates hundreds of cases of water and playing cards to organizations and schools.  

Every winter, during the holiday season, the Normandie Casino "adopts" a deserving employee and their family.   The employee's we've chosen to help in the past have often endured unthinkable hardships, both financially and emotionally. Donations for the adopted families are first raised by their thoughtful employees out of their own pockets. Then, the collected amount is matched by the Miller Family, owners of the Normandie Casino.

The Normandie Casino also rewards their valuable employees by hosting various events for Normandie employees and their families to attend.   During the summer we have the Employee Carnival, and during the winter we have the Employee Holiday Party.   We also offer four Employee Appreciation Poker Tournaments for employees to participate in throughout the year.

2008, "B or Better Foundation" Scholarship Award Recipients

"B or Better Foundation"

The B or Better Foundation and Scholarship Fund was established in 1999 by Normandie Casino Matriarch, Mrs. Mary Ellen Miller.    Designed to encourage educational achievement for Normandie Casino employees, their families, and the Gardena community, Mrs. Miller rewarded her employees when they enrolled in a class and received a grade "B" or better.   The tradition continues today and every employee receiving a B or better gets $100 per school subject.   Likewise, matching funds are placed into a high school scholarship program funded by the Normandie Casino B or Better Foundation. At the end of the school year the fund is divided and distributed to selected students from high schools in Gardena, as well as children of casino employees who choose to participate.   First the students must qualify academically and through community service, then they must write an outstanding essay.   Each year, we host a "B or Better Foundation" Scholarship award dinner for the winning recipients and their families to attend.

For more information please contact
Marketing at 310.352.3402
or email marketing@normandiecasino.com

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