SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (SHNS) – MGM Springfield made the Gaming Commission’s planned discussion on Thursday about the absence of poker at the western Massachusetts casino an easy one.
“So, really, I think our first statement is that poker will be returning to MGM Springfield,” Daniel Miller, the casino’s compliance director said right off the top. “We have plans that it will come back in Q4 of this year.”
The state’s two casinos — MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor — were freed of nearly all COVID-19 restrictions and resumed mostly normal operations in late May without offering poker, which had been prohibited by the commission when regulators first allowed the casinos to reopen under health and safety restrictions last year. This spring, the Gaming Commission began to take notice of the 10-fold increase in complaints about the lack of legal poker in the Bay State.
Both casinos said they would make decisions about the future of poker by the end of the year.
“Where previously we had made the statement that we would make a decision on it by the end of the year. We have at least made that decision and we will move forward with a plan on how to return it within that quarter,” Miller said, rounding out what ended up being a discussion of less than two minutes.
While poker will return to MGM Springfield, the casino will bring the popular card game back at a reduced capacity. Players can expect about 10 to 12 tables instead of the 28 that used to populate the casino’s poker room, Miller said.
“We have listened to our poker players and also our previous dealers that want this back as an option at our casino, and we want to provide it to them,” he said.
Encore Boston Harbor told the Gaming Commission in late July that a reintroduction of poker would require the casino to close other table games because it cannot find enough people to hire as dealers. An Encore executive also said the former poker room is now filled with “some of our highest-performing slot machines.”
“Based on current market conditions and the resulting need to prioritize space, Encore Boston Harbor will not be bringing back live poker at this time. If and when poker should return to Encore, it will likely be at a reduced capacity,” an Encore spokesperson said in July.
Poker is different from many other games in that gamblers play against (and win money from or lose it to) each other rather than the casino. Instead of the casino generating revenue by winning a game, as it usually does, casinos generally profit off poker by claiming a rake, or a percentage of cash game pots and tournament entry fees.
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, Bruce Band, the assistant director of the commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau and chief of the Gaming Agents Division, told commissioners last month.
Even without poker, Encore Boston Harbor raked in a record-high $59.07 million in gaming revenue in July and MGM Springfield had its best month since before Encore opened in June 2019, counting $23.71 million in gaming revenue. Combined with $12.95 million in monthly revenue at Plainridge Park Casino, July produced a record $27 million in gaming taxes and fees for the state.
On Thursday, Band provided the Gaming Commission with an update on the number of gaming positions currently offered at each of the three licensees.
Plainridge Park Casino currently has 910 active slot machines, he said. MGM Springfield is operating 1,609 slot machines, 52 table games and 15 stadium gaming seats, which allow gamblers to play blackjack, roulette, and variations of baccarat on computer screens, but with live dealers.
At Encore Boston Harbor, gamblers have their pick of 2,608 slot machines, 180 table games and 53 stadium gaming seats, Band said.