Antsy To Ante: MA Poker Players Impatient With Continued Casino Room Closures

Posted By Martin Harris on July 19, 2021

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed casinos across the country in March 2020, Massachusetts casinos shut their doors as well. A few months later, US casinos began to reopen, including Bay State properties in July.

In many cases, casinos delayed reopening their poker rooms until later in 2020 or early 2021. However, the once-popular rooms at MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor have both remained shuttered, making it 16 months since they’ve last dealt hands.

Meanwhile, poker players in the state are growing impatient. Some of their complaints were discussed at a public meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) last week. Even so, much like waiting through a long stretch of poor starting hands, players are having to remain patient.

Encore, MGM Springfield poker rooms remain closed

When the MGC allowed the state’s casinos to reopen last summer, certain table games were not initially allowed. These included craps, roulette and poker.

Encore Boston Harbor had been operating a massive 70-plus-table poker room. MGM Springfield’s poker room contained nearly two dozen tables. The state’s third casino, Plainridge Park Casino, has no poker room.

It wasn’t until May 2021 that the MGC finally voted to lift all of the remaining pandemic-related restrictions. One of those restrictions had been to limit poker tables to a maximum of four players. Faced with such a constraint, both MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor decided against reopening their poker rooms. However, now even with full tables of players permitted, the casinos still haven’t reopened those areas.

According to WWLP in Boston, the MGC has received numerous complaints from poker players about the rooms remaining closed. At last week’s meeting, Bruce Band of the MGC’s Gaming Agents Division reported that such complaints “have increased tenfold in the last two weeks.”

Band explained that players have been suggesting the MGC allow “poker parlors” to open while the rooms at the Massachusetts casinos remain closed. State gambling law, though, does not allow such facilities to operate.

MA casinos will reassess poker at a later date

Back in May when the restrictions were removed, both MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor indicated they would announce at a later date whether or not they would reopen their poker rooms.

Following Thursday’s meeting, Encore commented on the matter again in response to the discussion of player complaints, as reported by NBC Boston.

“Based on current market conditions and the resulting need to prioritize space, Encore Boston Harbor will not be bringing back live poker at this time. If and when poker should return to the Encore, it will likely be at a reduced capacity.”

In May, Daniel Miller, compliance director for MGM Springfield, said the casino was “continuing to monitor needs for poker and whether we will bring that back,” adding a decision would come “by or around December 31.”

MGM Springfield has not offered any additional statements regarding future plans for its poker room.

Strong revenue, prospects of sports betting lessen urgency to bring back poker

Neither casino has suffered greatly from not offering poker, traditionally among the least profit-producing games for casinos.

June revenue totals announced during last week’s MGC meeting included Encore Boston Harbor topping $52 million in gross gaming revenue for its third straight month over $50 million and among the highest total in its two-year history. Meanwhile, MGM Springfield enjoyed over $20 million in GGR in June, a fourth straight month eclipsing that mark and rivaling the property’s pre-pandemic numbers.

Some observers believe the ongoing discussion of legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts might be causing the casinos to be less eager to bring back poker just yet, if at all. Band, from the MGC, suggested as much last week.

“I think both of them are actually waiting to see what happens with sports betting. It’s kind of a wait-and-see for both properties.”

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