Encore Boston Harbor casino opens its doors
EVERETT — Greater Boston entered the casino era on Sunday with bursts of fireworks and a crush of patrons trading hundred-dollar bills for chips at the roulette wheel, eyeing their cards at the Texas hold ’em poker table, and pushing cash into whirring, glowing slot machines.
Encore Boston Harbor, the $2.6 billion hotel and casino on the Mystic River, is now open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Sunday’s grand opening marked a new chapter for a region founded, in part, by John Winthrop, who warned in 1630 against being seduced by “our pleasures and proffitts” — a place once known for banning objectionable novels and plays and where less than 40 years ago most stores could not open on Sundays.
Just after 10 a.m. Sunday, company executives and employees cut the ribbon for Encore and let loose a colorful blast of fireworks, while Frank Sinatra crooned through the loudspeakers.
Thousands of patrons streamed past the flower-encrusted carousel in the lobby to the 210,000-square-foot casino.
Others made a beeline for the 15 restaurants and lounges, slurping local oysters at the oyster bar, sipping cocktails at the Mystique Asian Restaurant & Lounge, and attacking crab legs at the buffet.
Getting to the opening required seven years of planning, review, and competition, a vast amount of environmental cleanup, and more than a few lawsuits.
Wynn Resorts, the developer and owner of the massive project, had to quickly revamp the leadership of the company in 2018 to survive allegations of sexual misconduct against former chief executive Steve Wynn. In February 2018, Wynn, who has denied the allegations, resigned from the company.
For those involved with the project, the opening of the 671-room hotel and casino is a symbol of positive change for the whole region.
“Boston is entering into a new era right now, being recognized as a global city,” said John Fish, whose company, Suffolk Construction, built the facility, with 3.1 million square feet.
“The Wynn investment is a harbinger of what’s going to happen over the next decade.”
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria cheered the transformation of a sulfurous Monsanto chemical site into a glimmering bronze casino and resort.
“When you drive through Everett, you’ll no longer smell gas and sulfur and oils, but you’ll smell flowers,” DeMaria said, in remarks to the crowd. “We’ll no longer be the back door to the city of Boston. We will now be the front door to the city of Everett.”
Encore is the state’s third casino, coming after the MGM Springfield casino, which opened last year, and the Plainridge Park Casino slots parlor, which opened in Plainville in 2015. Encore sits in what is expected to be Massachusetts’ largest and most lucrative gambling market. The state government will collect 25 percent of the casino’s gambling revenue in taxes.
In 2011, state lawmakers passed a sweeping, expanded gaming act that was signed into law by then-governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat. The future of the casino industry went to the statewide ballot in 2014, and voters affirmed they want casinos here.
But no prominent statewide elected officials showed up for the launch event. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, had a scheduling conflict, a spokesman said, and instead privately visited the casino resort on Friday. He “was pleased to spend time with some of the more than 5,000 new Encore staffers,” said spokesman Brendan Moss.
Patrick didn’t attend due to a scheduling conflict, said a spokesman for his current employer, Bain Capital.
The local elected officials who showed up cheered the project.
“The importance is they’ve hired over 5,000 people from the local area, so it’s jobs at good wages,” said Democratic state Representative Paul J. Donato of Medford. “The economy is good without them, but this” — he gestured to the bronze tower — “is going to make it even better for the people who live in the area.”
State Senator Sal N. DiDomenico said that when he voted for the expanded gaming law in 2011, he never imagined having this type of property in the state.
“It’s more than a casino,” the Everett Democrat said, smiling widely. “It’s an international resort that will attract people from all over the world to Everett and to the Commonwealth.”
The spectacle of opening day drew many locals, who have seen the property be transformed from a wasteland.
“I’ve been watching this for five years on the Orange Line!” said Deb Foti, who grew up in Everett, as she stood amid the thousands of flowers and trees that now line the shore.
Many people traded hours of sleep on a weekend for the prospect of being among the first to enter the Encore.
Matt Capozzi, 28, drove from Wilmington with his mom, dad, girlfriend, and a friend for the grand opening. He woke up at 2:30 a.m. Sunday and picked up drive-through breakfast from McDonald’s on the way there. By the time he arrived, at 3 a.m., he was fourth in line, he said.
“Here’s the thing: I’m going to be the fourth person to actually be in the casino, you know, I was the fourth one in line,” he said. “And every day I go in there, I’m the fourth person that was in there, and no one can ever take that away from me.”
Other patrons made more impromptu decisions to take a Sunday trip to Everett.
After a night of drinking, Jake Noftle, 21, walked all the way from Storyville nightclub in the Back Bay with his friend Richie Pragnell, also 21, to the Encore. They were heading home to Revere when the idea struck to wait a few more hours for the casino’s grand opening.
“It was a long walk. We walked all the way down Storrow Drive, Memorial Drive, by Bunker Hill; it was crazy. We had dead phones. We couldn’t get an Uber,” Noftle said.
“When we got here, it was cold, so we went inside our shirts, put our arms in, tried napping, but we couldn’t.”
Early Sunday morning, Wynn Resorts employees passed out snacks and chilled bottled water to people in line while others checked IDs as they signed up customers for the casino’s loyalty program.
Charlie Freeman, 69, and Michael Palmer, 58, both of Malden, met on the Encore shuttle bus from the MBTA to the casino Sunday morning and struck up a quick friendship.
They were deep in the line to get into the casino but in no great hurry, considering the sunny weather.
“I don’t have to drive two hours to Foxwoods anymore,” said Freeman, who likes to play the slots. “I’m going to come here as much as I can.”
Palmer, a poker player who might drop a few bucks in a slot machine occasionally, said he plans to “walk around and see the sights and plan what I’m going to do next time I come here.”
Neither was deeply concerned about traffic, and they said they assume that transportation will be crazy for a few days but then calm down.
And traffic was fine Sunday morning and early afternoon. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority had no reported delays in the area, and State Police did not have any major crashes.
The ease of getting to the casino may bring patrons back again and again.
Carol Elder, a 67-year-old Dorchester resident, came early and was heading out by 1 p.m.
“It was nice. I liked it, made some money,” she said.
Elder is usually a once-a-year casino visitor.
But with one now so close to home, she said, she’s likely to go more often.