EVERETT — Before they hit the card tables or slot machines, visitors who arrive at Encore Boston Harbor on the casino’s water shuttle often check in first with dockmaster Jay Larcome. He’s offering deals of his own.
“Welcome to Encore Boston Harbor,” Larcome says as he hands $7 food-and-drink vouchers to a group of women disembarking one of the 35-passenger yachts the casino has been using to ferry in passengers up the Mystic River from Boston. He also hands them a coupon for a free trip back when they’re done.
In a business that places a huge emphasis on first impressions, Encore counts on Larcome, a 66-year-old retired Newburyport police officer, to ensure a smooth entrance for the hundreds of customers who come by sea each day.
“We have a lot of great responses from a lot of guests,” he says, noting that the boats, which cost more than $1 million each, do most of the heavy lifting. “Encore spared no expenses on building these boats.”
And as the casino enters its first winter — it opened in late June — it will be his job to make sure the boats keep running smoothly even as the ice and snow bear down.
The first thing you notice about the dock where Larcome spends much of his time is the view. The facade of the 27-story hotel and casino curves to embrace the waterfront. So if you don’t turn your head to look at the giant Exelon power plant nearby, the manicured grounds of the resort might make you forget about the rest of the industrial waterfront.
Larcome has always been a boat guy. He lived on Plum Island for a long time, and still calls Newburyport home. After retiring from the police force 22 years ago, he spent years in management at clubs including Provincetown Marina and Charlestown Marina.
But in all of his years boating in and around Boston, he never explored this part of the Mystic.
“It was a commercial type of thing,” he says. “So there was really never much for us to do. This amazes me.”
The casino is now a marine destination of its own. In addition to its four MGM Yachts (built just down the shoreline at Boston BoatWorks in Charlestown), Encore also allows boat owners to reserve dock space if they want to navigate there themselves.
The industrial heritage of the Mystic is actually a help for the casino as it seeks to keep running the shuttle service year round. Commercial interests like the Exelon plant use icebreakers to keep the travel path clear for shipping, which means the casino’s little boats will have no problem slipping through.
“We’re not going to be the first ones to break the ice, so to speak,” Larcome says.
The casino expects demand for the shuttle to drop off over the winter. Trips now run from 11:45 a.m. to 11:10 p.m.; in the summer they started at 7 a.m. The shuttles stop at Long Wharf, East Boston, and the World Trade Center.
But every $7 ride counts for one less car trip, which is important to Encore operator Wynn Resorts. Under pressure from neighbors and regulators, the company is trying to keep vehicle traffic to a minimum — so far, it appears to have done that.
Larcome says he hopes customers will understand that they are not going to be exposed to the elements when they come aboard the shuttles, which are operated for the casino by Bay State Cruise Company.
“I don’t think people know the boats are heated,” he says.
The boats are fully enclosed, with seasonal windows in the back that can be opened during the more cheerful summer months. It was warm on a recent afternoon despite the crisp weather outside, and the view of downtown Boston and the North End and Charlestown waterfronts were undiminished.
Larcome and the five dock assistants who work for him won’t be exposed to the elements either. There is a heated shack (with faux-marble countertops, naturally) where they can wait for the yachts to come in, and Larcome spends a good amount of his time inside Encore, where there is a transportation office.
But a recent batch of colder temperatures has given him a sense of what’s to come as the weather rolls in. When Larcome arrived in freezing temperatures at 5:30 a.m. on a recent day, his staff alerted him to ice coating part of the floating concrete dock, so his first task was to call in maintenance to break it up.
Nothing like that would affect service, he says — though extreme weather is an issue even in summer.
“I think the hardest thing is just making sure that we can keep on a timely schedule,” he says. “We might have service interrupted if we have a big snowstorm.”