Casino blames poker’s absence on dealer shortage

Hampden County

BOSTON (SHNS) – If Encore Boston Harbor was to reintroduce poker right now, as some of its guests have demanded, it would require the casino to close other table games because it cannot find enough people to hire as dealers, an executive told the Gaming Commission on Thursday.

The state’s two casinos — Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield — resumed mostly normal operations in late May without reintroducing poker and the Gaming Commission has taken notice of the 10-fold increase in complaints about the game’s absence in the Bay State. The casinos have both said they will make decisions about the future of poker by the end of the year.

“To be clear, we did not say never to poker. We have said just not at this time. We’re constantly readjusting our offerings based on guest demand,” Jacqui Krum, Encore Boston Harbor’s senior vice president and general counsel, said. She added, “Throughout this difficult time, we have really tried to be agile and responsive. However, we do have limited space, and the former poker area is currently occupied by some of our highest-performing slot machines.”

The Everett casino, like many other businesses around the country, has had a hard time finding people to hire for open positions. Krum said Encore “simply cannot find enough dealers” or other workers and has been running dealer schools “almost non-stop.”

“Because of this labor crunch, reopening poker right now would necessitate the closure of other table games. We simply don’t have the staff available to do both,” she said. “We fully understand the impact of these changes to our valued guests, including our poker players, and if we could add another floor to the casino we would.”

Bruce Band, the assistant director of the commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau and chief of the Gaming Agents Division, told commissioners Thursday that the number of complaints his staff receives about the lack of poker at Encore has gone from four or five a month to between 45 and 50 a month.

The commission decided that it would not take any action related to poker Thursday and commissioners said they wanted to give the casino operator deference to run the facility in a way that maximizes tax revenue to the state while also preserving the jobs that come with table games. Commissioners said they expect regular updates from Encore on the status of poker.

“As a matter of principle, I think we ought to be very deferential to the operational expertise of the licensees. We awarded them a license because, among many other things, one of the big things was the way they operate gaming and the recognition and the great companies that they are,” Commissioner Enrique Zuniga said. “I think they have heard this matter loud and clear.”

Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein told Encore that she did not want to get into “micromanaging the world-class organization that you are” but reminded the company that “commitments were made early on for this license.”

“Today I’m hearing that poker in the poker room has been replaced by very high revenue-generating slot machines and I appreciate that, again, given our overall desire to maximize revenues. You can imagine though, I am thinking about that proverbial slippery slope because with each table game comes another part of those objectives which is … providing a high number of quality jobs,” she said. “We know that table games provide more jobs than slot machines.”

Krum told commissioners that Encore has a standing offer out to all of its poker dealers that the casino would pay for dealer school if they need to be trained to deal a different game at the casino.

She also pointed out that the casino is not trying to cut jobs, but rather to fit its offerings around the staff that it does have available.

“Part of the issue that we’re facing right now is we have the jobs and we can’t get people to fill the jobs,” she said. “So that’s part of the consideration, frankly, as well.”

Poker rooms at casinos are “somewhat notorious for their inability to produce competitive levels of profit per square foot,” researcher Anthony Lucas wrote in a paper published in the UNLV Gaming Research & Review Journal in 2013. Around the country, other operators have decided not to offer poker at this time, Band told commissioners.

Poker rooms are closed in Rhode Island and Maine but open in Connecticut and New Hampshire, he said. Three of seven poker rooms in New York are open, three of 10 in New Jersey are open, one of two in Delaware is open, seven of Pennsylvania’s 11 poker rooms are operating, all four poker rooms in Maryland are operational, Florida has 25 of 27 poker rooms open, there are 37 open poker rooms out of 48 total in California, and Nevada has 28 of its 43 poker rooms open, Band said.

Though the commission took no action Thursday, general counsel Todd Grossman told commissioners that a review of the state gaming law and other relevant materials he undertook with Joe Delaney, the commission’s head of community affairs, led him to conclude that the Gaming Commission “has very broad and expressive authority to address this issue.”

“There’s a whole series of conditions that had to be included within a gaming license, but the one I wanted to just draw to your attention is the first one on the list, which says that the licensee shall have an affirmative obligation to abide by every statement made in its application to the commission,” he told commissioners.

In the case of Encore, the casino’s application stated: “There will be an exclusive poker area with 25 dedicated poker tables covering all variations of the most popular poker games…”

“Clearly, these statements though were made as part of a larger description of the gaming program itself that was envisioned at the time, and so should, of course, be considered in the context in which the statements were made,” Grossman said.

Krum pointed out that the statement about a 25-table poker room was included in the main application, but that a more detailed response was included as an attachment. That answer included the line: “The property’s slot and table departments will constantly refresh the mix of slot and table games on the floor, ensuring that the most recent and popular games that appeal to all customer segments, including premium international customers, will be available.”

MGM Springfield did not participate in Thursday’s meeting with the commission and has not responded to News Service inquiries for more detailed information about the status of poker.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Only on WWLP.com | Digital First

More Digital First

Trending Stories

Donate Today