“Poker refugees” return to gaming tables at Mass. casinos

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The return of live poker to MGM Springfield last week “appeared to be a smashing success,” a top gaming regulator said Thursday shortly before Encore Boston Harbor announced that it is hoping to bring poker back to its floor early next year.

“As all of our poker refugees, as they call themselves, let us know multiple times a week, everybody misses the live poker operation at Encore Boston Harbor, as do we,” Encore Boston Harbor President Jenny Holaday told the Gaming Commission on Thursday morning. She added, “We will be resuming live poker operations. It’ll take us about 90 days to get ready, so we’re targeting a February 1 start date.”

Until MGM Springfield reopened its poker room on Oct. 29, poker had been absent from the Massachusetts gaming scene since the state’s two resort casinos shut down in March 2020. Poker was prohibited by the Gaming Commission when casinos reopened, but neither casino reintroduced the popular but less profitable game when they returned to mostly normal operations earlier this year.

MGM’s reintroduction of poker drew crowds and long lines, Bruce Band, chief of the commission’s Gaming Agents Division, said. MGM brought poker back with 13 tables, each with space for nine players. Poker games are offered daily from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. and Band said the game’s return saw about 40 employees rehired.

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“They had lines with a wait time as long as two hours this past weekend. The opening was well-received,” he said. “I think everything went very smoothly and we couldn’t have asked for a better opening.”

At Encore, poker will return with 12 tables and a reservation system for players, Holaday said. She said poker will initially be offered Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and that the casino expects to bring back between 40 and 50 employees.

Commissioner Brad Hill said Encore bringing poker back with just 12 tables compared to the 70 poker tables the casino operated before the pandemic sent up “a red flag” for him.

“I remember when it was 70 tables and I remember most of those tables were being used quite frequently,” he said. Holaday explained that the former poker room has been repurposed to hold more profitable slot machines and that poker will return at least initially to an area currently being used to train table game dealers.



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