BOSTON (State House News Service) — Massachusetts casinos have been allowed to fully reopen but neither one has yet reintroduced poker, and now both players and gaming regulators are looking for answers.
Bruce Band, the assistant director of the commission's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, told commissioners Thursday that complaints about the absence of legal poker in Massachusetts "have increased tenfold in the last two weeks."
"Basically people [are] saying if the properties aren't going to offer poker, we should establish poker parlors, which we explained the statute doesn't allow for," he said.
Poker was prohibited when the Gaming Commission first allowed Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield to reopen last summer and neither casino asked the commission to allow the game, as they did successfully with craps and roulette. Now that the commission's restrictions are gone, neither Encore nor MGM Springfield has committed to bring back poker.
The casinos said poker would not have been profitable for them with only four players allowed at a table under the commission's rules. But with the commission's limit on the number of players at a table lifted, officials from each facility said in May that they would announce a decision on whether to bring poker back by the end of 2021.
"We probably should pursue a few questions down the road, so stay tuned," Gaming Commission Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said Thursday, adding that she had asked the commission's legal department to look into the issue as well.
Commissioner Enrique Zuniga agreed and said the rationale for not offering poker is "something that we might want to hear in more detail at a future meeting from the licensees."
"I would be very curious to see what they have to say," he said. "Clearly, if the public is asking for it and that was something that was initially promised as an option, I think that's worth inquiring."
Band offered one possible reason for the decision to hold off on deciding the future of poker until the end of this year.
"I think both of them are actually waiting to see what happens with sports betting," he said. "And with space and gaming kind of forging ahead, it's kind of a wait-and-see for both properties, I believe."
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service