As the clock approached midnight on May 28, one would have thought it was New Year’s Eve on the gaming floor of the Encore Boston Harbor resort.
Excited patrons in masks stood with bubbling enthusiasm as a gaming floor employee stood up with a microphone and began a countdown from 10 – just like is done on New Year’s Eve as the ball drops on Times Square.
Except this time it was not to celebrate the end of the calendar year, but the end of COVID-19 restrictions in Massachusetts.
“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” yelled a large crowd, followed by many people dramatically ripping off of their masks and tossing them in the air as the clock hit midnight – signifying May 29 and the end of the Governor’s and Mass Gaming Commission’s (MGC) restrictions on the property.
It was total jubilation at the 24-hour resort, and the reintroduction of many banished casino games and, hopefully, of many furloughed workers in the coming weeks.
Spokesperson Rosie Salisbury said they were very pleased to be able to lift the restrictions, as voted by the MGC, and are prioritizing bringing back furloughed employees as soon as possible.
“We are pleased with and in full support of the MGC’s decision to lift Covid-19 restrictions on May 29,” said Salisbury last week. “Encore Boston Harbor will continue to operate in accordance with all orders or advisories issued by the Commonwealth as well as any applicable guidance provided by the CDC. As it relates to bringing furloughed employees back to work, we continue to monitor our business levels and are re-opening areas of our resort to meet customer demand. Furloughed workers will, as they have throughout the pandemic, be given priority as we reopen positions.”
At a meeting of the MGC on Wednesday, May 26, the Commissioners voted to lift three orders from June 23, 2020; Oct. 8, 2020; and March 11, 2021. Those restrictions included the overall COVID-19 regulations, and also specific regulations for playing Roulette, Blackjack and Craps. Lifting those regulations also allowed the reintroduction of Poker games at the casino, which haven’t been allowed for feasible since the pandemic closed down operations at Encore more than a year ago.
The MGC Commissioners voted 4-0 to rescind all the orders on the state’s casinos, including Encore.
“It’s been 15 months since the Gaming Commission convened with all three casino licensees in a virtual setting to discuss the rapid reach of the coronavirus pandemic,” MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said. “The three gaming licensees have cooperated fully throughout this process, working always to serve the public’s interests and protect their patrons and employees.
“We thank Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield, and Encore Boston Harbor for their compliance and dedication to health and safety during this difficult period,” Chair Judd-Stein continued. “I also wish to extend my sincere gratitude to the entire MGC team for its consistent commitment over the last 15 months.”
The orders were rescinded subject to the following conditions, which were agreed to by the gaming licensees:
•The licensees shall conduct business in accordance with all COVID-19-related orders and advisories issued by the Governor or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that remain in effect, as well as any applicable CDC guidelines.
•The licensees will ensure their pandemic safety officer remains in place until further notice.
•The licensees will continue to report any positive COVID-19 tests related to the gaming establishment to the MGC’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau (IEB) and their respective local boards of health.
•The licensees will continue to work cooperatively with the IEB to ensure the relevant guidance and practices are being followed.
Horse Racing and Simulcasting Also Resume
In separate 4-0 votes, the Commission also allowed horse racing and simulcasting licensees, including Plainridge Park Casino, Raynham Park, and Suffolk Downs, to rescind their respective MGC-approved COVID-19-related reopening plans.
Those restrictions were rescinded with the same restrictions as were attached to the casino licensees.