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Massachusetts gaming commissioners push casinos to open more table games

Table games at the MGM Springfield casino in 2018
Paul Tuthill
Table games at the MGM Springfield casino in 2018

Demand from poker players remains a focus

Gambling regulators in Massachusetts want the state’s resort casinos to open more table games.

The MGM Springfield casino is licensed for 100 table games such as blackjack and roulette, but as of last month was operating fewer than half that number.

That is not acceptable, said Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein.

“The less table games they have, the more they look like a slots parlor,” Judd-Stein said. “And that’s not, Commissioner (Brad) Hill, what you and your legislative colleagues envisioned back when gaming was expanded.”

Job creation was a key reason the legislature voted to legalize casinos in 2011 after years of debate.

“We want the full complement of games, not only because that’s what our patrons want, but also the jobs that are attached,” Judd-Stein said.

MGM Springfield had 269 card dealers, table game operators, and poker supervisors working in July, according to data reported at a meeting last week of the gaming commission. Just before the casino had to close in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 444 people employed in those jobs.

Prompted by complaints from the public, commissioners have been harping for months about the availability of poker at the casinos. MGM had 22 poker tables open in March 2020 and just 14 now. Encore Boston Harbor casino had 74 poker tables before the COVID-forced closure and just 15 now.

Spot checks in July found wait times of as long as an hour for a seat at a poker table at MGM Springfield and similar waits at Encore. It shows the demand for poker that is not being satisfied by the casinos, said Commissioner Brad Hill.

“I’m bringing it up, I’ll bring it up until I’m happy with the amount of tables,” Hill said.

A spokesperson for MGM said they would reserve comment until the casino presents a quarterly report to the Commission in September.

Bruce Band, Deputy Director of the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau at the Gaming Commission, said MGM has struggled to hire and retain table game dealers.

“They’ve had trouble re-hiring dealers there, from what we’ve been told,” he said. “They will get some people and then they will leave for some other position.”

MGM’s last quarterly report to the commission in March 2022 listed a total of 1,203 employees, down from 2,500 in March 2020.

Combined gross revenue from table games and slot machines totaled $21.5 million at MGM Springfield in July according to figures reported Monday by the Gaming Commission. That is slightly higher than the take in June.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.