BOSTON (SHNS) – Things have gone well at the state’s slots parlor or casinos since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted last weekend but staffing shortages are keeping some aspects of the gambling world from immediately returning to pre-pandemic norms, a gaming regulator said Thursday.
Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor were allowed last Saturday to return to pre-pandemic operations as Gov. Charlie Baker and the Gaming Commission lifted the numerous restrictions and mandates that had been imposed since the gaming centers reopened last July, including the requirement to wear a mask.
“Everything seems to be going pretty well transition-wise,” Bruce Band, assistant director of the commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, told commissioners Thursday morning. “The casinos have been 100 percent cooperative.”
He also told the Gaming Commission that the Everett casino followed through on its idea to offer a champagne toast as the restrictions were officially lifted at midnight last Saturday. He said the toast “went over very well at Encore.”
“Some people even commented it was more exciting than the grand opening,” Band said.
About half of the people who have visited the state’s slots parlor or casinos since last Saturday have worn a face-covering regardless, Band told commissioners. He said “masks are about 50/50” for players across the three properties and that gaming agents “don’t see a lot of masks being worn by employees at this point.” He said most casino employees have been vaccinated.
Federal and state public health officials have said fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or practice social distancing in most settings but advise that people who have not yet been vaccinated should continue to cover their mouth and nose around other people.
In Springfield, 64,682 residents have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — about 41 percent of the city’s population, according to the most recent Department of Public Health data. About 48,533 people, or 31 percent of the city’s population, is fully vaccinated. In Everett, 27,414 residents, or 56 percent of the population, have gotten at least one shot and about 20,537 people, or about 42 percent of the city, are fully vaccinated. About 63 percent of Plainville’s population, or 5,816 people, have gotten at least one jab and about 51 percent of the town’s residents, or 4,684 people, are fully vaccinated.
Statewide, 3,693,979 people or about 53 percent of the population were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday’s report from DPH, which included about five days more data than DPH’s town-specific counts.
Band said Encore in Everett has 200 tables games and all of its slot machines open, and that MGM Springfield has its table games and about 80 percent of its slots open — neither casino has kept any of the plexiglass barriers that were used at table games for the last year.
“It seems like when they were taking it off the tables, the patrons almost helped them remove it,” Band said.
Plainridge Park has not yet removed any of its plexiglass barriers and Band said the Plainville slots parlor has been slower to return machines to active use as it deals with a “little bit of a staffing shortage” in its slots area.
Staffing issues were also cited Thursday as the reason Encore scratched the planned soft opening for its nightclub MÃ©moire. IEB Director Loretta Lillios told commissioners that Encore executives told her that, because of the staffing issue, the nightclub will not have a soft opening this weekend but will open with performances by electronic artists Fisher, Dillon Francis and Gryffin next Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Rapper 50 Cent is scheduled to perform at the nightclub on June 18.
Last week, when the commission convened a meeting with the casino and slots parlor operators to discuss the lifting of restrictions, gaming executives told regulators that they felt they were in good shape generally but were having a hard time hiring for some positions.
“It’s bringing back folks in the food and beverage environment, entertainment environment, where you’re having this confluence of events — we’re looking to bring people back but every bar and restaurant is now looking to up their staff and so the competition for bringing those workers back is out there,” Seth Stratton, vice president and general counsel of MGM Springfield, said last week. “The market has fundamentally changed in this year, the labor market. And so part of our phased reopening is driven not just on doing it responsibly but on hiring and the ability to get folks back quickly.”
Plainridge Park General Manager North Grounsell said the Plainville slots parlor was facing many of the same hiring issues.
“It remains a challenging hiring environment,” he said last week. “We have positions posted, we’re making every effort to make sure that former team members are aware of the opportunities that are available and that we’re out actively recruiting. So we’ll see what that brings.”