Poker-playing New Englanders’ complaints over two Massachusetts’ casinos failure to reopen their poker rooms continue to cause headaches for state regulators. At a special Massachusetts Gaming Commission hearing on the matter, a casino executive blamed ongoing staff shortages for poker’s disappearance.
Encore Boston Harbor’s Jacqui Krum told the MGC on Thursday that her casino has encountered widespread staffing shortages. Besides trained dealers and floor staff, the casino claims to need more cashiers and food-service workers as well. The poker-room closures at Encore and MGM Springfield, however, have become a public matter.
“Because of this labor crunch,” Krum told the commission, “reopening poker right now would necessitate the closure of other table games. We simply don’t have the staff available to do both.” Krum serves as Encore Boston Harbor’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel.
Complaints trigger MGC ‘poker summit’
Massachusetts regulatory overseers have been besieged by complaints from aggrieved poker players in recent months. The MGC normally receives four or five consumer complaints per week, but since the two casinos fully reopened in May, complaints have risen tenfold. Most of those complaints have concerned poker’s continuing absence from the casinos’ gaming options.
In Encore’s case, the former poker room is now a high-stakes slot parlor. The rest of the casino has returned to normal or near-normal operations. The choice to remove poker in favor of additional slot machines triggered the wave of poker player complaints.
Two weeks ago, the MGC added a “poker summit” to its list of pending issues. That urgency triggered Thursday’s special hearing. “To be clear,” Krum told the commission, “we did not say never to poker. We have said just not at this time. We’re constantly readjusting our offerings based on guest demand.” However, demand alone doesn’t explain the situation.
Earlier table restrictions removed in May
Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield reopened in July 2020 after four months of total pandemic-related shutdown. The partial reopening mandated 25% maximum capacity overall, and in poker’s case, only four players per table.
At the time, Both Encore and MGM Springfield chose not to reopen their poker rooms under the four-player-max guidelines, saying poker was unprofitable. The player cap was removed in May 2021, however, when the state’s casinos were cleared to resume full-capacity operations.
On Thursday, the MGC chose not to press the issue of whether the casinos could be mandated to again offer poker. Instead, the board’s four commissioners opted for “deference” in how the casinos operate their facilities. They acknowledged the tradeoff between generating tax revenue for the state and protecting dealers’ jobs, despite the casinos’ assertion that sufficient trained floor staff remain unavailable.
Both Encore and MGM Springfield reaffirmed earlier promises to revisit poker’s availability by the end of 2021.
Featured image source: Facebook/encorebostonharbor