The Encore Boston Harbor resort and casino closed its doors for at least two weeks on Sunday morning at 6 a.m., following several days of intense debate on whether to stay open or to close – all intermingled with the emergence of a positive case from a guest who was at the resort on March 5 and later tested positive on March 12 for COVID-19.
That person who tested positive is believed to be, and was first reported to be, NBA Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell. They player went public on March 12 with the fact he had tested positive along with other members of the team.
The resort announced the closure of Memoire Nightclub and the Luxury Buffet at the resort on Thursday evening, March 12, in addition to a laundry
list of cleaning efforts and safety precautions to prevent closure.
However, by Saturday, March 14, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission
(MGC) ordered Encore and the state’s other two casinos to close operations
by 6 a.m. on March 15.
“In consultation with the MGC, Encore Boston Harbor announced that it will be closed to the public for two weeks,” read a statement on March 14 from the company. “The gaming areas will close beginning 5:59 a.m. on Sunday, March 15. All other non-gaming operations will cease beginning midnight on Sunday. The Company will pay all full-time employees during this period as it evaluates the impact of the temporary closure. A limited number of employees and management will remain at the resort to secure, sanitize and maintain the facility. The health and welfare of our guests and employees has been our primary concern throughout this health crisis.”
The MGC logged a unanimous vote in an emergency special meeting on Saturday to discuss the closure of all three casino-properties.
“The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted unanimously to temporarily suspend operation at the state’s three casino properties, including Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino,” read a statement from the MGC. “In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the decision was made in collaboration and cooperation with our licensees to safeguard the health and well-being of casino guests, employees, and regulators.
“We are all doing our best to appropriately and thoughtfully respond to this highly complex and unprecedented set of circumstances and uncertainties,” the statement continued. “United in a shared goal of preventing the spread of infection, the MGC and our licensees view this immediate mitigation measure as our social responsibility to prioritize the health and safety of one another above all else.”
The MGC said they will remain in close contact with licensees during the shutdown and will consult with government and health officials to determine what is a safe time to resume operations. At the moment, the MGC has decided to re-assess the situation in two weeks.
On Monday, a special meeting of the MGC reported that all closing operations had gone smoothly.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria applauded the closure and the “tough decision” that was made.
“I applaud the MGC and Encore Boston Harbor for making the tough decision to close the casino temporarily,” he said. “The health and well-being of Encore’s staff and patrons are paramount. Social distancing is the best way to flatten the curve of this pandemic. As a community, we will persist.”
With all of the above, however, that concluded a fairly rocky few days at casino properties, especially Encore.
On Thursday evening, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) reported guest who was at the Encore Boston Harbor on March 5 was reported to have come down with the COVID-19 virus, though he was low-risk and without symptoms while there, according to DPH.
Encore, at the time, said it was being vigilant despite the “low-risk” designation and had notified employees at the resort who had direct contact with the person. Those employees have been take precautionary measures, and those employees have been place on paid leave.
Spokesman Eric Kraus said they have taken a substantial amount of safety preparedness, and will continue to do so.
“We’ve further reflected on the responsibility that businesses such as Wynn Resorts must play during a time like this,” said CEO Matt Maddox in a statement. “In combination with what my team has learned through our meetings with our public health consultants and officials, I’ve recognized we need to temporarily implement fundamental changes to our business.”
A number of employees continued to work regular shifts through Thursday, Friday and Saturday – and at least one restaurant worker said it was an intense time.
The worker, who was kept anonymous for this article to protect his employment, said he was very nervous working a final shift on Saturday.
“It was a great idea for them to close it,” he said. “They should have shut down as soon as Walt Disney World shut down. Disney never shuts down, and they should have shut down immediately. I had to work a shift on Saturday, and that was my last day. We were worried there would be a lot of people, but most people stopped coming. It was supposed to be busy through the weekend, but a lot of people started canceling.
“Once the governor said there couldn’t be more than 250 people, that changed a lot,” he continued. “We have that many workers on shifts at that very time – never mind the customers coming in.”
The worker said he was relieved – as were all his co-workers – that they would continue to get paid during the shutdown.
“As long as we’re getting paid, it should be okay for us to get by,” he said. “I think it’s going to be longer than two weeks, though…I’m just really glad they closed because I didn’t want to end up getting sick. We all breathe the same air whether we’re in a restaurant or on a casino floor. I’m glad they closed and we are staying home.”
Councilor Mike McLaughlin said he was also glad they closed the facility, and he had been calling for that since Thursday. He said he was the first elected official in Everett to call for the shutdown, and primarily out of concern for workers at the resort.
“As soon as I learned of the positive case at the Resort from a visitor in early March, I quickly continued to call on Encore to take appropriate action immediately to protect its employees, guest and vendors,” he said. “It was my belief from the beginning that Encore should have closed their facility for the betterment of all. I am thankful the MGC heard the concerns and unanimously voted to ensure the safety of guests, employees and vendors at Encore by taking a positive vote of closure.”
McLaughlin said he was disappointed at how a spokesman for Encore characterized his early calls for the resort to close for thorough cleaning.
“I found it disturbing, then, as I do now that the spokesperson for Encore Boston Harbor made a statement to Fox 25 news that I was misinformed,” he said. “There was nothing to be misinformed about when there was a positive case of the coronavirus at your facility. It was time to take appropriate action to close the facility and keep everyone safe.”
Encore officials had been trying to keep the resort safe and keep open for business as long as possible to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the employees, they said on Friday afternoon.
That was accomplished by a combination of measures that included screening the temperatures of guests using thermal cameras at all entrances, and putting more distance between dining tables and gaming stations/seats at the casino.
However, even those measures were not enough by Saturday when the MGC and state government decided the best course of action for safety was a total shutdown.
On Monday, Wynn Resorts announced the temporary closure of its properties on the Las Vegas Strip as well.
This is the second wave of casino closures for the Wynn company, as they had to shutter their Macau properties for 15 days in January and February due to concerns over the coronavirus in China.