Encore Boston Harbor has quietly reopened its poker room, marking the first time one of the Northeast U.S.’s largest rooms has spread poker since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The room reopened slightly ahead of schedule after indicating three months ago that it would open at an unspecified date sometime in February 2022.
Monday’s reopening at Encore Boston Harbor means both major casino-based poker rooms in Massachusetts are again accepting players, if only on a limited basis. The other prominent Massachusetts poker room, at MGM Springfield, reopened in early November. Both rooms had remained shuttered for an extended period while the remainder of the two casino properties returned to relatively normal operations, following Massachusetts’ state officials rescinding early restrictions on occupancy and seating.
Though open, Encore Boston Harbor’s poker offerings remain slim for the time being. Pre-pandemic, the busy Boston room offered 74 tables of action, including both cash games and tournaments. Monday’s reopening, as previously announced by Encore, included only 12 cash-game tables. Reservations were also being required, with the room running waiting lists for its limited seats.
Until further notice, the hours and days poker will be offered also remain quite limited. The room is open only Monday through Thursday, and only from 10 am to 8 pm. A local update on Boston’s WBZ-CBS4 declared that players can reserve seats online. However, an online signup is not evident on the encorebostonharbor.com website, though it might be contained within the casino’s downloadable smartphone app.
The reopening also went unannounced on Encore Boston Harbor’s two related Twitter accounts, one for the casino at large (@EncoreResortBH) and one for the poker room (@ebhpoker). The @ebhpoker account has been dormant since March of 2020.
Extended closures triggered local controversy
The poker rooms remaining closed at Encore and MGM when the rest of the casino properties resumed nearly normal activities resulted in protests from the region’s poker players. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission was deluged with complaints about the extended closure in June and July of last year, and then called a special hearing with casino representatives to learn more about the extended poker-room downtime.
At that hearing, officials from both casinos testified that it wasn’t a matter of the room space or the relaxed regulations. Instead, it was a staffing issue: Many of the dealers specifically trained to deal poker had moved on to other jobs over the course of the first 15 months of pandemic-related shutdown.
That shortage still exists, and it may be months or even years before full staffing is restored. The poker-dealer staffing shortage is at least nationwide in the U.S., and it was on full display at the 2021 WSOP last fall, when a few events were delayed and some non-bracelet events canceled despite plenty of table space being available.
Featured image source: Encore Boston Harbor