It’s not every day a state’s highest court discusses blackjack. But that’s what is happening in Massachusetts this week.
The issue in the unique case involves whether or not the state’s two commercial casinos, Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield, should be allowed to offer less favorable odds in their blackjack games.
Lower courts haven’t been able to resolve the matter. So, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court will hear the case.
Blackjack odds of 6-to-5 or 3-to-2… that is question
As CommonWealth reported, the dispute arose when the two casinos began running traditional blackjack games but with less favorable 6-to-5 odds.
More commonly, casinos offer blackjack with 3-to-2 odds. The odds determine how much a player wins if he or she beats the dealer in a hand. For example, a player wagering $200 would win $300 at 3-to-2 odds. However at 6-to-5 odds, that player would only win $240.
In most cases, when the odds are 6-to-5, the rules of the game are also altered in the player’s favor. However, the games with 3-to-2 odds at Encore and MGM Springfield still used traditional blackjack rules.
Blackjack players brought two different cases against the casinos, one against Encore and one against MGM. In each case, the players argue the casinos should not be permitted to payout at 6-to-5 odds without altering the rules as is typically done.
The case has reached the Supreme Judicial Court because lower court judges ruled in different ways in those two cases.
In the case against MGM, a Superior Court judge dismissed the case. Meanwhile, in the Encore case, a US District Court judge ruled against the casino.
Regulators have sided with casinos, all await judges’ ruling
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) examined the situation as well, ultimately determining that the casinos had done nothing wrong by offering their 6-to-5 blackjack games according to traditional rules.
The MGC clarified its rules in Oct. 2020 to insist the odds are prominently displayed so players know them before playing.
The commission additionally voted unanimously in February to file an amicus brief to the Supreme Judicial Court as requested.
Players in the two cases are seeking compensation from the casinos for having received lower payouts during the period prior to the MGC clarifying those rules about displaying the odds.
For MGM Springfield, the period goes back to when the property opened in Aug. 2018. Encore Boston Harbor opened in June 2019. Encore typically only used the 6-to-5 odds in lower-stakes blackjack games, while MGM used them in higher games as well.
Will the judges hit casinos and regulators with another card to consider? Or will they stand with the MGC’s support of the casinos? Soon they will deal their verdict.