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Mass. Gaming Commission says no dice to poker, roulette, craps

Regulators fear COVID-19 levels are still too high to expand casino offerings in Everett, Springfield

The lobby carousel at the Encore Boston Harbor casino was decorated with fresh flowers, along with face masks for the horses.
The lobby carousel at the Encore Boston Harbor casino was decorated with fresh flowers, along with face masks for the horses.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Thursday declined to allow casinos to offer tournament poker, roulette, or craps in the state, citing concerns about the continued risk from COVID-19 even as the facilities have reopened with other games.

Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield have been open for a month with offerings that include slot machines and blackjack, but regulators have not allowed them to offer games that may be harder to play with social distancing. While some small-scale poker games are available, poker rooms and large games are off-limits.

Plainridge Park, the state’s other casino, has only slot machines.

Commission members and staff said the casinos have been doing a good job of adhering to the health protocols that are under their control. The facilities require patrons to wear face masks at all times, have reduced the number of people allowed inside, and have installed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of plexiglass and other safety equipment.

But regulators said that adding more games, particularly after Governor Charlie Baker has moved to scale back some aspects of the state’s reopening, would not make sense now.

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“It seems that expansion of operations at this time, following so quickly on the heels of what the administration is directing, would not be appropriate at this time,” Loretta Lillios, the commission’s chief enforcement counsel, said during a Thursday meeting held via video conference.

Encore operates in a particularly high-risk area. Its home community of Everett ― along with nearby Chelsea, Saugus, Lynn, and Revere ― have levels of COVID-19 that are among the highest in the state, according to calculations released by Baker’s administration.

“While inside, there appears to be very good news in terms of adherence to the guidelines and occupancy levels, it’s very prudent to continue to monitor our environment,” said commission member Enrique Zuniga.

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Encore and MGM had both requested to be able to resume craps and roulette games while using plexiglass dividers, social distancing, and sanitation protocols that they hoped would reduce the risk of anyone transmitting coronavirus.

After four months without revenue amid the COVID-19 lockdown, the casinos are awaiting the opportunity to move closer to offering their normal range of gaming offerings. Other resort services, such as providing live entertainment and hosting conferences, remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Gaming commission staff said during the meeting that they would continue talking to Encore and MGM about when and how it would be appropriate to begin running games that are currently darkened.

“We appreciate the Gaming Commission’s thoughtful consideration and will continue to work collaboratively to determine when it’s appropriate to offer more amenities to our guests,” the leadership of MGM Springfield said in a statement.

Encore public affairs chief Eric Kraus said the casino also will continue to comply with rules set by the state.

“We fully support the directives given by the State and the MGC and will adhere to them,” Kraus said in a statement.





Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.