EVERETT ― The gleaming bronze tower looks like a slice of Las Vegas that landed in Everett, and the $2.6 billion Encore resort casino was designed to offer Vegas-like appeal to high-rollers from around the region, the nation, and beyond.
But with the resort casino’s revenue lagging its lofty targets, a sense of reality is settling in on the banks of the Mystic. Encore management has realized that success will hinge on bringing more customers to the less-affluent end of the gaming table.
This shift was evident recently when a bright-red taco truck appeared on the gambling floor amid the slot machines and table games. At “Encore Cantina,” which operates out of an antique Citroen delivery truck, a plate of nachos starts at $7 ― far lower than the price of food in some of the casino’s restaurants, where dinner tabs of several hundred dollars are not uncommon.
The nachos are a good deal, but nobody at Wynn Resorts, Encore’s Las Vegas-based parent company, would dare call them “cheap.” The food truck is one of several steps Encore is taking to broaden its appeal by offering “quality at the right price point,” according to casino president Brian Gullbrants. He said it’s all about “viable options that appeal to every market.”
In other words, the welcome mat is out for lower-rollers, too.
“We don’t ever want to alienate a segment of the business," Gullbrants said. “We want customers to be able to come in here whether they have a dime, 10 bucks, or 10,000 bucks, and feel like a million bucks.”
As part of the attempt to entice more cost-conscious customers, Encore, which opened in June, already has eliminated parking fees at its garage. It has introduced new rewards for regular slots players, and it’s dropped the minimum bet for table games from $50 to $15. The casino also has taken steps to address complaints that there was nowhere to get a quick and inexpensive bite to eat ― it’s lowered prices even at its fancy restaurants such as Rare Steakhouse and is planning to introduce lower-cost food options in the coming months. (Encore has had a Dunkin’ store just off the gambling floor since it opened.)
The moves are not a huge surprise. Casinos regularly make such readjustments as they get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses in a particular market. Encore, like other casinos in the region, has been struggling to attract slots players at the levels it expected when the company was eyeing the affluent Boston region six years ago. Less opulent options may be a way to get more regular players in the door, and keep them coming back.
But for Wynn Resorts, which built its brand by being a high-end name in the casino meccas of Las Vegas and Macau, adapting to the needs of a regional market is a new challenge.
Colin A. Mansfield, lead gaming analyst at Fitch Ratings, said he believes Encore can successfully adapt in New England ― though that might mean tweaking some elements of Wynn’s traditional approach to running a resort casino.
“Just because they’re synonymous with luxury or higher-end doesn’t mean they can’t be successful outside of a market like Vegas and Macau,” Mansfield said.
Gullbrants, who spent a decade in executive roles in Wynn’s Vegas properties before coming to Boston, said the philosophy here is not so different from those locations.
“You have every segment of the business in those markets as well,” he said.
The striking resort was designed from the start to stand out from its industrial surroundings. The approach is in contrast to that taken by MGM Springfield, where designers built the casino into the existing streetscape, emphasizing the city’s history and regional decor.
Gullbrants said Boston’s personality has been infiltrating Encore’s operations. Gullbrants, who lives in the North End, said Encore is developing a limited-frills Italian restaurant like the ones in his neighborhood. He envisions pizza by the slice, paninis cooked to order, and gelato made on site.
He said similar spots in the North End are highly successful.
“It’s in huge demand, and the affordability, the approachability of the food ― simple, straightforward — customers love it. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want to have a corporate business dinner at Rare, with your executives, or a special, nice night out with your wife at Sinatra,” he said, referring to two upscale Encore restaurants. "But you don’t want to do that seven nights a week.”
In what will be another significant addition, Encore is planning to add a sports bar, which it would likely convert into a sports book if Massachusetts lawmakers decide to legalize sports betting. Gullbrants said the rabid interest of Boston sports fans could be a great way to get people into the casino.
“We want people to embrace this as theirs. We don’t want to be a Vegas casino. We want to be a Boston casino,” Gullbrants said.
For some regulars, the changes at Encore’s 15 dining spots are a sign that the casino is getting a better idea of who its customers are. Malden resident Kimberly Battis said she’s eaten at all of the casino’s restaurants (she gambles enough to get complimentary meals), and that it’s not hard to get a table on a weeknight.
“That’s telling you something right there. That’s saying this place is too expensive,” she said. “They were aiming to get people in there with a lot of money — a ton of money. And you don’t have that in this area. ... That’s why things are changing there now.”
Mansfield, of Fitch Ratings, said Encore can still appeal to wealthy customers while courting less-affluent gamblers. They won’t mind food trucks on the floor, and there will always be rarefied options, he said. Just this month, the casino said it will open an exclusive lounge for its biggest spenders.
“This was never going to be a property that was going to cater solely to VIPs,” Mansfield said. But, he added, the strong economy and general prosperity of the Boston area still bode well for Encore’s prospects.
Bill Dorazio, a Tyngsborough resident and a leader of a nearly 5,000-member Facebook group for Encore patrons, attributes some of the early hiccups at the casino to leadership changes within Wynn.
Steve Wynn, the founder and the longtime face of the company, departed in 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has denied. And last year, Gullbrants, who had been in charge of hotel, food, and beverage at Encore when it opened, replaced Robert DeSalvio as casino president less than four months after the doors opened.
At first, Dorazio said, he thought the casino could have showed a little more appreciation for its regulars. He met with Gullbrants recently and told him as much.
“It’s been a little sour taste in their mouths,” he said. “But it’s starting to come around.”
The rewards program has helped, Dorazio said, and Encore has begun offering gifts to regular bettors. Prizes this month include an immersion blender, a toaster oven, an electric wok, and a slow cooker, according to posts in the Facebook group “Everything Encore Boston Harbor.”
Dorazio said it’s easy to gripe about what could be done better. But for him, one consideration outweighs all others.
“We don’t have to go to Connecticut anymore,” he said. “We have a casino in our backyard."