senior Encore Boston Harbor casino staffer received backlash from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Thursday regarding its continued delay to bring back poker, as the commission has seen a complaint rise over its disappearance.
Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Encore Boston Jacqui Krum, said: “To be clear, we did not say ‘never’ to poker. We have said, ‘just not at this time. We’re constantly readjusting offerings based on guest demand.”
The commission tends to receive only about five complaints a month, however lately the group has received about 50 per month. Many of those complaints were requests to bring poker back to casinos, according to Bruce Band, the deputy director of the commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau.
The commission had originally mandated that only four players be allowed per poker table in response to COVID-19. At the time, both Encore and MGM Springfield said those limitations would not have made poker profitable enough to bring back. The mandate was lifted in late May, but poker has still not returned to Massachusetts casinos. The two casinos have previously stated they would revisit the poker issue by the end of 2021. Currently, about half of New England states casinos have open poker tables.
Krum said that what was once the poker area has been repurposed during COVID-19 for “some of our highest-performing slot machines,” adding that they are “physically large machines that take up quite a bit of space.” She said the popularity of that room since poker was removed has grown “exponentially.”
She added that Encore, like many other industries across the state, is suffering from an employment shortage. “We remain in continual hiring mode. We simply cannot find enough dealers, cashiers, or food servers,” Krum said. She added that Encore offered to pay for new hires’ dealer school in June of last year, but “because of this labor crunch, reopening poker right now would necessitate the closure of other table games,” she said, as reported by Boston Herald.
Although the commission’s chair, Cathy Judd-Stein, said she was not interested in “micromanaging” Encore, she called its license a “privilege.” With each loss of a table comes the loss of additional jobs, and careers, she said. “I am thinking about that proverbial ‘slippery slope.’ ”
The group adjourned without a final decision, instead, it plans to do periodic check-ins on the decision-making process through the end of the year.