BOSTON (SHNS) – The calls for poker to return to Massachusetts casinos are growing louder now that Gov. Charlie Baker has outlined a timeline for a complete economic reopening and as the Gaming Commission undertakes its own effort to prepare for fewer COVID-19 restrictions.

The state’s slots parlor and casinos have been operating since July under Gaming Commission rules that cap occupancy (currently at no more than 40 percent), require masks, limit which games are offered and more. Though Baker has announced a plan to lift all remaining business restrictions by Aug. 1, the Gaming Commission will have to act on its own to effectuate changes for its licensees.

While the commission will have to officially alter many of the restrictions that have shaped the gaming landscape for much of the last year, the restaurants inside the gambling centers can ease their restrictions based on the governor’s directives and guidance for restaurants, Investigations and Enforcement Bureau Director Loretta Lillios said.

“The three licensees are continuing to abide by and dedicate substantial staff and resources to the health and safety measures put into place by the commission, and this also holds true so those areas of the gaming establishments, in particular the restaurants, that are governed by the specifications put into place by the governor’s office,” she said.

Gaming Commission Executive Director Karen Wells is planning to convene the commission’s restart working group next week, Lillios said, to begin preparing possible recommendations that commissioners could consider and vote on over the coming months.

Though neither Encore Boston Harbor nor MGM Springfield has yet made a formal request to the commission, players have been chomping at the bit for the return of poker in Massachusetts.

“Since the governor’s announcement, our questions about when poker is opening up in this state has increased probably by 30 percent,” Bruce Band, assistant director of the IEB, said. “Everybody’s asking us when we’re opening up.”

The Gaming Commission has relaxed its guidelines and allowed additional games to be offered at a few points in the last year. Roulette was reauthorized in October and craps was given the green light to return in early March. Later that month, Band told commissioners that poker players were getting antsy, but that the casinos felt they could not make a profit by offering poker under the commission’s restrictions.

Encore Boston Harbor explains on its website that the commission’s guidelines “would only allow four people at a poker table, including the dealer” and that poker is not profitable for them at that scale. The Everett casino said “fully operational poker” would include nine players per table and suggested that it is waiting until the Gaming Commission allows at least that many players per table before bringing poker back.

“When that time comes, we will evaluate the viability of the market, the demand for the game, and our facility’s capacity to support it. Until then, we will continue to operate without live poker,” the casino said on its website.

MGM Springfield makes similar statements on the webpage for its poker room and similarly does not commit to offering poker again in the future.

“When the time comes, we will evaluate market conditions, demand, and our ability to support Poker,” the casino said on its site.

Even without poker, the state’s gambling halls are seeing a rebound. March, by some measures, was the best month on record for Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor.

Band said Thursday that May 1 was the busiest day for the three licensees since he last updated the commission in late April. He said Plainridge Park topped out at 15 percent occupancy on the day of the Kentucky Derby, Encore Boston Harbor hit 19 percent occupancy while it had a slots promotion going on and MGM Springfield saw 21 percent occupancy with a car giveaway underway.

For Encore and MGM, the occupancy levels match the previous highs reported by Band for both Saturday, April 17 and Saturday, April 24. Band had previously reported a high occupancy of 31 percent at Plainridge Park on both Friday, April 16 and Friday, April 23, and on Thursday he said the 15 percent number came about after an issue with the slots parlor’s counting method was remedied.