Encore Boston Harbor plans to replace some of its bartenders with machines that make drinks at the push of a button, a move that is part of a growing trend in the casino industry toward automating service jobs.
The move will affect staffers who work at service bars behind the scenes, preparing cocktails for patrons who are on the gaming floor.
About 50 people hold such jobs at the Everett casino, said Eric Kraus, its senior vice president of public affairs. Bartenders who directly serve patrons will remain in place.
Encore said the switch could result in some layoffs, though it may place the affected workers in other jobs. Kraus said there are nine other bartending jobs open at the casino, and it’s not clear whether all service bar positions will be cut.
He said that, as of Thursday, no bartenders had been laid off. The goal, he said, was to speed drink service on the gaming floor, which customers have complained about being sluggish since the casino’s June opening.
“The use of automated beverage dispensers will allow us to increase the speed in which our guests receive the beverages they ordered,” Kraus said. “This has been an ongoing concern from our guests, and it’s something that we needed to address.”
The decision comes as employment at Encore has been declining. It said it had about 4,500 employees at the start of the year, down from about 4,800 last fall. Casino management has said that as part of the normal course of business, the workforce would probably shrink after Encore was up and running — though the reductions also come amid disappointing early gambling revenues.
Encore’s decision to automate some of its bartending operations highlights a pattern toward automation in what has traditionally been a labor-intensive industry. The local casino is just the latest gambling resort to use drink-making machines.
The MGM Springfield casino in Western Massachusetts has used the technology since it opened in 2018, and the casino’s parent company has since expanded the practice to properties in Las Vegas. The Plainridge Park slots casino in Plainville has used similar devices since opening in 2015.
But Encore’s decision to replace with machines some jobs it had already created raised questions Thursday from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which regulates casinos.
“You made the decision to automate this, and you didn’t have the information six months ago, before these folks were hired, that this technology . . . was available and was maybe more efficient?” commission member Gayle Cameron asked Encore officials, who appeared before the panel as part of a broader discussion of Encore’s business.
Kraus told the commission the decision was a response to feedback from visitors who have endured long waits on the $2.6 billion casino’s massive floor.
Encore said use of the machines will require a change to its liquor license, which the commission would have to review. The casino expects the change to be in place within the next several weeks.
Automated drink-making machines are analogous to soda fountains, but with more complex inner workings to handle large volumes and different combinations of liquor while keeping precise track of how much is poured.
They are typically kept out of sight — part of a massive operation in which hundreds of workers crank out drinks throughout the day and night.
The advent of such technology has been a topic for labor negotiators in the heavily unionized industry. In Las Vegas, unions in 2018 secured rights protecting staff jobs from automation.
These include notifications of up to six months that new technology will be coming online, retraining for workers who need to use such devices, and benefits for workers laid, according to Unite Here Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents many hospitality workers in that region.
It was not immediately clear whether unionized workers at Encore will be affected by the bartending automation.
Automation will continue to change the casino industry in coming years, said Dina Tanvuia, a hospitality and event management professor at Lasell University. Tanvuia is a former assistant beverage director at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
“From the casino perspective, these type of machines are kind of like your employee of the month. They don’t call in sick. They don’t take vacation. They don’t need a break,” Tanvuia said.
But Tanvuia said she doesn’t expect entry-level jobs to disappear from the industry anytime soon. Many customer-facing employees, such as dealers, are a core part of the casino experience. There are also behind-the-scenes roles in maintaining and stocking the new machines — though not as many as the the devices eliminate.
Tanvuia said moves like the one Encore is making could ultimately free up money for it to invest in other areas that are not related to gambling — including new entertainment options — and which have been big revenue drivers for casinos in recent years.
“You can’t really ignore the trends in the industry, because everybody is doing this right now,” she said.
Andy Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A previous version of this article included an incorrect spelling of Lasell University.