The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has reportedly received 10 times its normal level of complaints this year with local poker players demanding that live poker return to the state’s two major casinos. The MGC scheduled conversations with the Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield casinos to see if anything could be done about re-opening the poker rooms that these two locations used to provide. In a welcome turn of events, the MGM Springfield made Thursday’s conversation with the MGC a short one.
“So, really, I think our first statement is that poker will be returning to MGM Springfield,” MGM Springfield casino compliance director Daniel Miller told the gaming commission. “We have plans that it will come back in Q4 of this year.”
The MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor both re-opened with limited COVID-19 restrictions in late May. Both casinos were cleared to operate without any major restrictions such as plexiglass separators or masks being required at tables. But while slot machines and table games have been active at both locations since reopening, neither casino reopened its poker room, with both stating that they would make a decision about the future of their poker rooms by December 31, 2021.
Springfield’s decision came much sooner than expected. “Where previously we had made the statement that we would make a decision on it by the end of the year, we have at least made that decision and we will move forward with a plan on how to return it within that quarter,” Miller said. “We have listened to our poker players and also our previous dealers that want this back as an option at our casino, and we want to provide it to them.”
With the MGC and MGM Springfield both in alignment, Thursday’s discussion took less than two minutes to complete.
Encore Boston Harbor still has no current plans to reopen poker room
Encore Boston Harbor told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that it did not intend to reopen its poker room in the near future. Senior Vice President Jacqui Krum pointed out that the area that used to be the poker room is now occupied by some of the casino’s highest performing slots. She also mentioned lack of dealers and the necessity for training as downsides.
“Because of this labor crunch, reopening poker right now would necessitate the closure of other table games. We simply don’t have the staff available to do both,” Krum said in July. “We fully understand the impact of these changes to our valued guests, including our poker players, and if we could add another floor to the casino we would.”
Given how well Encore Boston Harbor is performing without poker, it makes sense that the casino isn’t in any rush to make changes. The casino reportedly brought in a record-high $59.07 million in gaming revenue in July. It currently operates 2,608 slot machines, 180 table games and 53 stadium gaming seats (allowing players to play digitally with a live dealer).
MGM Springfield’s decision could draw business away from Encore Boston Harbor
MGM Springfield is also performing well with its current setup of 1,609 slot machines, 52 table games and 15 stadium gaming seats. The casino earned $23.71 million in gaming revenue in July, marking its best month since before Encore opened in June 2019.
By being the only casino in the state offering live poker, MGM Springfield could draw some of Encore Boston Harbor’s traffic over to them. Dan Miller indicated that poker players should expect the game to return at a reduced capacity, with maybe 10 to 12 tables as opposed to the 28 tables that used to fill the poker room.
Even though the poker tables generate less direct revenue than slot machines and other table games, the draw of live poker could bring players into the casino that might play other games while they are there, as well. Regardless of how many tables end up in the new poker room, poker players in Massachusetts will be happy to have the game back.