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Encore Boston Harbor opening won’t be a fireworks-lit extravaganza

Las Vegas Review Journal

Richard N. Velotta

June 15, 2019

The opening of a new megaresort in Las Vegas often makes people think, “Glitz! VIPs! Fireworks!”

Except for the occasional soft opening, most big casino debuts over the years have been in the evening and have involved people lining up for blocks well before the doors open. They hope to be a part of history by being among the first to play a slot machine or a hand of blackjack in a brand-new, squeaky-clean facility.

Things will be a little bit different next week when the doors open for the first time at Encore Boston Harbor, Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s $2.6 billion entry into the New England gaming market.

No evening-hour, fireworks-lit extravaganza there. Encore will open at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, presumably when most of the descendants of the Puritans are in church.

Encore executives acknowledged last week that the timing of the opening was by design. They fully expect a rush of gamblers to jam the resort, and, considering most will be unfamiliar with the ingress and egress of the place, they don’t want patrons to have to compete with normal weekday commuter traffic to get to it or make suburban Boston rush hour worse.

Anticipating a crowd queue hours before the doors open, the 10 a.m. startup was chosen so that people who do wait outside won’t be doing so during the heat of the day. Snack and water stands are planned.

Massachusetts gaming regulation is much different from how resorts are treated in Nevada. While members of the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the Nevada Gaming Commission ask questions about all the details of a resort opening, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission requires full reports and must sign off on everything about the resort, including all the nongaming amenities.

For example, Encore will be required to market Massachusetts tourism within its building as a condition of its license. Wynn Resorts will be required to have space for and to implement GameSense, a responsible gaming program developed by the British Columbia Lottery Corp. and adopted by the Massachusetts commission for all licensees. MGM Resorts International embraced it for its MGM Springfield casino, which opened in August, and liked it well enough to implement it at all its domestic properties.

One of the reasons Massachusetts focuses so much attention on its licensees is that a commercial casino license in the state is a rare privilege. Once Encore opens, only three commercial casinos will exist in the state, including a slot-machine parlor operated by Penn National Gaming at the Plainridge Park Race Track in central Massachusetts. (There is also one tribal casino.) Three geographically controlled integrated resorts are authorized in the state’s Expanded Gaming Act of 2011: MGM Springfield in the west, Encore in the east and another site that could be identified in the southeast portion of the state. Companies are limited to owning one casino each.

That’s obviously a big difference from Clark County, which has 215 nonrestricted licensees — 170 that generate more than $1 million in revenue and 44 of them on the Strip. Several companies have multiple properties here.

While the Strip sometimes isn’t the easiest place to get around, the concern in Boston is that key roads and highways leading to Encore also are important commuter routes.

Encore has the bonus of being on Boston Harbor, and boat access is one of the transportation options for the resort. But one of the entrances to the harbor passes beneath a drawbridge. A big boat bringing patrons to the casino would stall road traffic as the bridge is raised and lowered.

Encore officials said they’re spending more than $1 million on advertising just to educate the people about various transportation options. That campaign begins in earnest this week.

Branded shuttle buses and motor coaches will move people from remote parking lots to the resort, mirroring a strategy successfully used at MGM Springfield 10 months ago. Encore President Robert DeSalvio said last week the shuttles would stay in place for as long as necessary to mitigate traffic problems.

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