As masks first returned to the MGM Springfield casino in Massachusetts, now poker is also on its way. While state casinos adapt their operations to local health and safety measures, operators too seek to adjust their gaming offerings to consumers, including the reintroduction of popular games that had been left out as a result of the pandemic.
MGM Springfield has recently begun removing slot machines from its poker room, in anticipation of a return of the game, according to 22 News. But while the reintroduction of poker suggests a return to normal, pre-pandemic operations, the venue has also reinstated mask mandates to keep up with local measures since Sept. 13.
“MGM was prepared for the new order,” said Loretta Lillios, director of the Gaming Commission's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, on Thursday. She further noted that, before the order, the casino had already reinstated mask mandates for employees.
“They were able to quickly update their signage, their social media and their other web-based messaging notifying guests of the requirement,” remarked Lillios. “There have been no significant issues with patron compliance.”
Bruce Band, assistant director of the IEB, concurred with Lillios, and said that MGM had begun to remove about 20% of the slot machines from its former poker room “in preparation of introducing poker,” according to the previously cited news source.
Both MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor, the only other option for poker in the state, resumed mostly normal operations in late May, although without offering poker. The game had been prohibited by the commission when regulators first allowed the venues to reopen under health and safety restrictions in 2020.
MGM Springfield declared its intentions to reintroduce the popular games to the Gaming Commission last August, as poker players demanded its return. In an effort to secure approval, the casino agreed that it could do so at a reduced capacity.
According to an MGM official, players can expect about 10 to 12 tables in the poker room, down from the total 28 that used to greet them upon entrance to the facility. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission noted in a meeting last month that it had seen a tenfold increase in complaints, many of them over the lack of poker options in the state.
“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,” said MGM Springfield Compliance Director Daniel Miller during said meeting.
Encore Boston Harbor has yet to make a decision about the game returning to its operations, which is set to be announced by the end of this year. Bringing the game back would likely mean the closure of some other table games at the Everett casino, said the casino.