State Supreme Court Solidifies Casino Rights For Lower Blackjack Payouts

Written By George Myers on July 9, 2021 - Last Updated on December 1, 2021
The Mass. Supreme Court ruled against gamblers at two casinos in response to complaints about blackjack payouts.

A ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court has determined that gamblers at two in-state casinos have no grounds in their complaints about blackjack payouts.

The decision is a boon for both MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor and could save each casinos tens of millions in payouts each year.

But it is also a disappointment for blackjack players across the state who watched the case’s progression since 2019 – comprised of two lawsuits later combined – and hoped the court would solidify more favorable payouts.

3:2 or 6:5? Discrepancy becomes sticking point

At the crux of the dispute was what gamblers deserved when hitting blackjack, or 21, inside the two casinos.

Prior to arriving at the state Supreme Court, the cases had received mixed results. While a state court judge agreed with the casinos, a federal one denied a motion to dismiss by Encore, putting the issue before Massachusetts’s seven justices.

Those who brought the cases argued they should have been paid out at 3:2 odds ($150 for a $100 bet) but instead were given 6:5 payouts ($120 for a $100 bet) when they hit blackjack.

While winning bets payout at 1:1, wins become more profitable when a player has hit blackjack.

Often, the 6:5 variation is paid out when a form of the game that favors the player – one or two decks dealt face down – is used on casino floors.

On the other hand, 3:2 payouts are given in a more standard, house-friendly game that includes six or eight decks dealt face up.

In this instance, however, the casinos were paying out 6:5 blackjacks while playing the standard, house-weighted game, something the gamblers argued is not allowed.

In response, the casinos argued that they were taking advantage of an angle permitted by Massachusetts state law, a position later corroborated by the state’s gaming commission.

Wynn Resorts officials said at the time that Encore Boston Harbor “follows the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s regulations for blackjack payouts.

Still, the lawsuits continued, in large part because of how ambiguous the commission’s rules were on the issue prior to their 2019 clarification following the gamblers’ legal challenges.

‘Should have quit while they were ahead’

Despite the MGC’s previously garbled rules, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled, unanimously, that the casinos had been within their rights to offer 6:5 odds on the traditional style of play.

“The decision handed the [casinos] a major litigation victory in a suit watched closely by the gaming industry and covered heavily by high-profile media nationwide,” wrote Brown Rudnick, who represented the casinos, in a statement.

Had the ruling gone the other way, the casinos would have been on the hook for additional payouts worth tens of millions each year.

Instead, their current setups can remain, which, at Encore, is 6:5 payouts on the ground floor and 3:2 on the upper, high-roller floor, where players are required to ante up big sums of cash for better odds.

The main issue breaking the casinos’ way was the court’s determination that the 6:5 payouts were prominently displayed, including on the tables’ felt at both MGM and Encore.

Associate justice Scott Kafker wrote the court’s opinion, saying “the plaintiffs lose this last bet. They should have quit while they were ahead.”

“Any player familiar enough with the blackjack rules to know the differences between standard blackjack and the 6:5 variation would have been able to observe the relevant features of 6:5 payout blackjack and know they were not playing the 6:5 variation,” he added.

“Although Encore and MGM chose to operate a house-friendly game, they did not deceive players into believing it would be more player-friendly than it actually was.”

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George Myers

George Myers is a writer with extensive experience in both news and sports reporting. He has primarily covered baseball and football, along with the intersection of sports and lawmaking.

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