When Will Massachusetts Poker Rooms Reopen? Frustrated Poker Players Want to Know

  • Encore Boston Harbor’s poker room will be at reduced capacity if it ever reopens
  • Massachusetts’ casinos have been fully open without restrictions since May
  • The most likely reason for poker rooms remaining closed is profitability
  • The state Gaming Commission has seen complaints about closed poker rooms rise dramatically
Encore Boston Harbor
Neither Encore Boston Harbor (pictured above) nor MGM Springfield have reopened their poker rooms, despite having already fully reopened the rest of the casino operations. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Casinos fully open, poker rooms closed

The two casinos in Massachusetts that have table games – Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield – have been fully reopened for a couple of months, but neither has brought back poker. And according to one of them, it’s possible they may never.

In a statement late last week, an Encore Boston Harbor spokesperson said that it was an “if and when” situation when it comes to the poker room, not a “when.”

If and when poker should return to Encore, it will likely be at a reduced capacity.”

“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,” the spokesperson said. “If and when poker should return to Encore, it will likely be at a reduced capacity.”

MGM Springfield has made no comment on the future of its poker room.

But why?

Massachusetts’ casinos were among the last in the United States to reopen during the pandemic, finally getting the green light to do so – with heavy restrictions – about year ago. It was not until March 2021 that blackjack tables were expanded to four seats and craps tables were reintroduced at all. The state finally lifted all restrictions in late May.

When casinos were initially permitted to spread poker games again, they decided not to largely because the allowed maximum of four players per table simply wasn’t profitable (nor was it appealing to players). But with all limitations now removed, neither Encore Boston Harbor nor MGM Springfield has petitioned the state Gaming Commission to reinstate poker.

not nearly as profitable as slots, video poker, and other table games

The big question, of course, is why the casinos haven’t reopened their poker rooms. The primary reason is likely profitability. Because of the nature of poker as a player-versus-player game, it is not nearly as profitable as slots, video poker, and other table games.

The casinos may have seen that they really aren’t missing poker financially and want to replace it with more lucrative games to make up for last year’s pandemic-related losses. Some in the industry also speculate that they may be waiting to see what happens with sports betting in the state, as they might opt to use the poker rooms’ spaces for sportsbooks.

In an editorial, the Lowell Sun suggests that staffing could be an issue, as well. Skilled poker dealers and poker room staff may have moved on to other jobs while waiting for the venues to reopen.

Gaming Commission patient, but wants answers

Bruce Band, assistant director of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, told commissioners last week that people are clamoring for poker. Complaints about the game’s absence “have increased tenfold in the last two weeks.”

The lack of poker, not to mention customers’ desire to see the casinos launch the games once again, is not lost on the commission. While casinos certainly have the right to run their businesses the way they see fit, they still need to abide by their licensing agreements.

“I would be very curious to see what they have to say,” said Commissioner Enrique Zuniga, speaking about the casinos’ reasons for not reopening their poker rooms. “Clearly, if the public is asking for it and that was something that was initially promised as an option, I think that’s worth inquiring.”

Commission chair Cathy Judd-Stein said that she has asked the commission’s legal department to weigh in, adding: “We probably should pursue a few questions down the road, so stay tuned.”