Lack of Space, Not Enough Dealers: Massachusetts Poker Rooms Remain Shuttered

Written By Martin Harris on August 3, 2021

We noted last month how Massachusetts poker players were growing increasingly impatient awaiting the return of their favorite game to the state’s casinos. The poker rooms at both MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor continue to remain closed despite pandemic-related restrictions on the games having been lifted entirely during the spring.

The players’ complaints have continued, shared once again at last Thursday’s meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC). A representative of one of the casinos shed further light on the situation, listing several factors affecting the decision not to bring back poker just yet.

Among the issues in play are a lack of floor space and not enough dealers available at present to handle the casinos’ needs, even without the poker tables running.

Players’ complaints continue, rooms remain closed

Bruce Band of the MGC’s Gaming Agents Division appeared before the commission again. Once more, Band shared news about the increase in complaints from poker players.

Both the large poker rooms at MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor closed in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The casinos reopened a few months later, but the poker rooms remained closed in part because of MGC-mandated restrictions.

Those restrictions included limiting poker games to four players per table. Both properties chose not to reopen their poker rooms as the games would not be profitable.

In May 2021 that restriction was lifted, enabling full-ring poker games once again. However, neither property moved to reopen their poker rooms. More than two months later they remained shuttered with the year-and-a-half anniversary of their closure now in sight.

According to Band, the MGC has been receiving 50 complaints per month, most of which concern the still-closed poker rooms.

Poker’s return would mean removing ‘highest-performing’ slots

An executive from Encore Boston Harbor, Jacqui Krum, offered some comments to the MGC explaining why Encore, in particular, has yet to reopen its poker room.

“Just to be clear, we did not say ‘never’ to [bringing back] poker, we have said just not at this time,” Krum began. “We are constantly readjusting our offerings based on guest demand and feedback,” she continued. While the casino strives to be “agile and responsive” to customers’ needs and desires, space limitations have forced Encore to make some choices.

She explained how the area where the poker room had been “is now occupied by some of our highest-performing slot machines.”

In addition, some of these machines are physically quite large, occupying even more space than do typical slots.

Compounding the issue is an ongoing “labor crunch,” explained Krum. “We remain in continual hiring mode,” she said. “We simply cannot find enough dealers, cashiers, or food servers.”

She explained how the casino has offered to train former poker dealers on any other table game if they wish. However, “reopening poker right now would necessitate the closure of other table games,” said Krum. “We simply don’t have the staff available to do both.”

She noted how Encore management faces several difficult choices every day. Meanwhile, staff constraints and limitations of space make those decisions even more challenging.

“I can assure you the return of poker is very much a part of this daily consideration,” she concluded. She did not indicate a date when poker might possibly return.

Neighboring states’ casinos dealing poker while MA waits

Such a report helps clarify reasons why poker remains on the rail. That said, it won’t necessarily provide much solace to Massachusetts poker players wishing their rooms would reopen.

Meanwhile, the poker rooms at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resorts Casino in Connecticut are both open. So are rooms in some New York casinos. Those include rooms at del Lago Resort Casino, Resorts World Catskills, and Turning Stone Resort Casino.

Photo by AP / Charles Krupa
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