Massachusetts gaming regulators to consider holding 'poker summit'

Encore Boston Harbor poker room
David Schneid
Posted on: July 21, 2021 10:20 PDT

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will consider holding a special hearing on the removal of live poker from the two state casinos formerly offering such games — Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield. The MGC continues to receive a "flood of complaints" following both casinos' decisions to discontinue poker until at least 2022.

MGC regulators addressed the subject at a Wednesday agenda-setting hearing in which poker's availability wasn't on the agenda. Instead, due to complaints arriving at what the MGC has estimated at ten times the normal volume, the board added the topic.

Boston news outlet offered an update on poker's late addition to the proceedings. Up for examination and debate may be whether the two casinos are obligated to offer live poker in any way. MGC Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein tasked a subcommittee to find additional info on the “legalities and the history of poker and other amenities under the [gaming license application] and then the legal authority that the commission has, et cetera, and report to us.”

Other states offer little precedent for forced poker availability

Assuming Massachusetts' gaming regulations deliver no such mandate that poker must be offered, the MGC may look to other states for guidance. That effort, though, would be unlikely to support a forced offering. In Nevada, for example, several poker rooms in business as of early 2019 no longer spread games.

Several Nevada casinos never reopened their poker rooms after pandemic restrictions eased. These closed rooms provide the nearest parallel to the Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield situations. A couple of other Nevada poker rooms did reopen post-pandemic but subsequently closed, such as Las Vegas's Planet Hollywood.

New England's poker players might argue that both Massachusetts poker rooms' failure to reopen leaves them without viable options. However, Foxwoods in nearby Connecticut is open, and caters heavily to Massachusetts players.

Post-pandemic issues remain

Both Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield might argue that special conditions still exist, making resuming poker more difficult. Most reopened U.S.-based poker rooms did so with plexiglass barriers between seats or mask requirements. Many casinos also experienced a shortage of skilled poker dealers, as dealers moved to other employment during the casinos' long, pandemic-mandated closures.

“What is our authority? What is their obligation?" asked MGC Commissioner Gayle Cameron. "And what is their current thought process on not offering at this time? I think all of those are really important to understand clearly and information will help us make good decisions.” That information largely exists, but isn't what poker players want to hear.

Neither Encore Boston Harbor nor MGM Springfield have been overly helpful, either. Both casinos' online websites offer brief, generic messages about their poker rooms remaining closed, but without further explanations.

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