The future of Encore Boston Harbor’s poker offerings remains uncertain as the Massachusetts Gaming Commission considers the casino’s request to expand its property by building an additional gambling venue across the street from the current Encore Boston Harbor. However, the MGC continues to mull the exact language of the referendum under which local voters approved the initial casino project in 2013.
Should Encore’s proposed expansion receive state approval, the casino’s poker room would be moved from its present location to a spot within the new addition, along with a sportsbook. No timetable exists for when the proposed project would be completed, nor has it been specified whether the proposed addition would be connected to the existing casino via a skybridge or other pedestrian conveyance to maintain the property’s continuity.
The sticking point in Encore Boston Harbor’s plans is that the language of the 2013 referendum may specifically bar the expansion due to its detailed physical description. The city of Everett, where the casino is located, approved the following referendum’s language:
“Shall the City of Everett permit the operation of a gaming establishment licensed by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to be located at the property located on Horizon Way (off ‘Lower Broadway’) in Everett, formerly known as the Monsanto Chemical Site?”
The parcel where the sportsbook and new poker room would be built fits only part of that description. A small triangle of land that sits across Broadway, south of the casino, is part of the original Monsanto property that Wynn acquired. However, Horizon Way stops at Broadway, though a different-named road continues into the southern part of the Monsanto land. Thus, the MGC has to determine if the reference to the old Monsanto plat is the greater part of what voters approved, with quick approval of the Encore’s expansion at stake.
Poker room’s move likely a side consideration
One benefit for the Encore Boston Harbor if the expansion is approved is that once the new sportsbook/poker facility is opened, it will free up more gaming space in the existing casino for other gambling forms, likely additional slots. The MGC, however, has resisted prior efforts by the casino to move its mix of gaming offerings in that direction.
As it relates to poker, that issue came to a head during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like virtually all other casinos offering live poker, Encore Boston Harbor closed its poker room in early 2020, as did its Massachusetts competitor, MGM Springfield. Encore Boston Harbor only reopened its poker room in late January, 2020, and that on a limited basis. Currently, the room offers only 15 tables of cash-game action, instead of the 74 tables of cash games and tournaments offered pre-pandemic.
MGM Springfield also cut back its poker offerings, leading to a flood of consumer complaints to the MGC, which investigated poker’s long absence. The casinos argued that they were unable to rehire skilled poker dealers in the quantities they had previously employed, while the MGC countered that offering poker and other gaming options besides just being a “slots parlor” was part of what the state expected in granting the casinos their gaming licenses.
In that sense, the proposed sportsbook/poker venue may offer a workaround that both sides can live with. Sportsbetting and poker would receive their own dedicated gaming space, while MGM Springfield would get what it really seems to want: more floor space for slots, which generate more revenue per square foot than any other casino-gambling form.
Featured image source: Encore Boston Harbor