At Encore Boston Harbor, gamblers are all-in on table games
The hoots and hollers at the craps table, the groans as blackjack players fly past 21, the chatter at the pai gow table — it’s all the sound of money for Encore Boston Harbor, which has raked in the majority of its gambling revenue in its first 39 days from table games.
That’s a surprising marker in the casino industry, which typically relies on slot machines for most of its cash. Some industry experts said the early success of Encore’s table games suggests the company’s emphasis on high-end amenities, such as fancy restaurants and blue chip art, is bringing in the big-spending gamblers that casinos covet.
“Encore has done something I didn’t think any casino could do: They’re getting more money from people playing table games than slots,” said the Rev. Richard McGowan, a Boston College professor who closely follows the gambling industry.
“The management of Wynn must be ecstatic,” he said of Wynn Resorts Ltd., which owns and operates the Everett casino.
Encore raked in $65 million in gaming revenue from its fireworks-filled June 23 opening through July 31, according to state figures released Thursday — $35 million from table games and $30 million from slot machines.
It’s far too early to reasonably project what the casino might bring in over the course of a year, but the early numbers put Encore on track to exceed state estimates, while falling short of Wynn’s public first-year projections.
By law, Massachusetts takes 25 percent of resort casinos’ gross gambling revenue and 49 percent of those revenues from Plainridge Park Casino, the slot parlor in Plainridge.
Joseph Weinert, a casino specialist at Spectrum Gaming Group, a consulting firm, said it’s very rare for casinos to bring in more revenue from table games than slot machines.
“You see that in some premium Las Vegas Strip resorts,” he said. “Otherwise, in casinos across America, it’s heavily skewed toward slot play.”
While Weinert cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the limited data, he said Wynn built the $2.6 billion property, which features chic restaurants and lounges and 671 high-end hotel rooms, “to attract exactly the kind of table play that they appear to be getting.”
McGowan noted that table games have better odds than slots and often attract younger and more highly educated people, something “the Boston area is known for.”
Table games may get a further boost when college students return from summer break, he said. After all, he said, millennials like games of skill.
The cavalcade of table gamers at Encore has impacted other casinos in the region such as Twin River Casino Hotel in Lincoln, R.I., which has seen a drop in table game revenue and may have to lay off employees.
“To reflect the decreased volume of business . . . to our table games and slot machines, largely due to the recent opening of Encore Casino in Boston, we expect some of our part-time union table games dealers, mostly hired within the last six months, will be impacted,” Twin River spokeswoman Patti Doyle said.
Meanwhile slot machine revenue at Plainridge Park was down roughly 20 percent this July compared to last year. An executive at the Plainville casino’s parent company said it doesn’t comment on individual property performance.
Massachusetts’ first full-fledged casino, MGM Springfield, saw its revenue hold steady in July, despite Encore’s arrival. That’s something Michael Mathis, president of MGM Springfield, trumpeted.
“We continue to be pleased with our performance as we grew revenues and visitation in the month, notwithstanding the entry of a new competitor to the market,” he said.
But as the Western Massachusetts casino approaches its one-year anniversary this month, it’s on track to fall well short of its revenue projections.
MGM Springfield brought in $253 million in gross gaming revenue in its first 49 weeks, according to the data released Thursday. When it applied for its licence, MGM projected it would pull in more than $400 million in its first year.
MGM is certainly not producing the revenue executives would have wanted given the resort’s $960 million cost, said casino specialist Paul DeBole, a Lasell University political scientist.
And back in Everett, the news was not all rosy for Encore, with specialists saying the casino’s slot machine revenue was unexpectedly soft.
“One reason their table games revenue was higher than slot revenue is because slot revenue was on the low side – well below three primary competitors: Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and Twin Rivers,” Weinert said.
Or as DeBole put it: “I think there are going to be a lot more of those senior citizen bus trips coming in.”
The need to tinker with incentives to bring in more slot players is something company executives hinted at on a recent Wynn earnings call.
Chief executive Matt Maddox said “table games are performing well” at Encore Boston Harbor and the property was “working on various offers and promotions to really understand the highly competitive slot market in the Northeast.”
On Thursday, company spokesman Michael Weaver said Wynn Resorts “will comment on the results reported by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission at our quarterly earnings calls.”
So what does all this mean for Massachusetts’ bet in 2011 to legalize Las Vegas-style casino gambling?
“It’s way too soon to have generalizations about the resort-style casino era in Massachusetts,” said DeBole. “Is it successful? Depends on the measure of success.”