Worker shortage across the board at the casino follows national work shortage trends
With a barrage of complaints about the lack of poker games at Encore Boston Harbor, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) inquired into the problem at its July 29 meeting, and found that Encore would like to bring back poker, but cannot find enough workers to come back or be trained.
The poker games at Encore were a fast-favorite pre-COVID and table games revenues were always high, but all that was lost during COVID-19 when games like poker were deemed too risky to bring back due to the proximity of players at a station – as well as the number of players required for the game to be profitable. So, poker disappeared for a time, but with the easing of restrictions last spring, the MGC allowed casinos to bring back the game.
However, Encore still has yet to bring back any poker games, and has replaced many of the poker areas with new, successful slot machines. That, they said, is because they cannot entice furloughed dealers to come back, or new employees to be trained.
“Part of the issue we’re facing now is we have the jobs, but can’t get people to fill those jobs,” said Encore’s Jacqui Krum. “That’s part of the consideration – is these unfilled jobs…We will train absolutely anyone that wants to be a dealer at our cost…We didn’t say no to poker, just not at this time.”
MGC officials told the Commission that while they might receive about four or five complaints a month about the table games in a normal time, they have been getting upwards of 50 complaints a month about Encore not bringing back poker.
Right now, there are no poker tables on the floor at all in Encore, and the poker areas that once existed in Encore were transformed into high-performing slot stations during the pandemic. Those machines continue to do well and are popular with customers, Krum said, and they also don’t require any dealers or personnel such as table games do.
The problem exists not only with open positions for dealers at the resort, but also for food/beverage, housekeeping and other areas of the resort. Officials have indicated that their business at Encore is now at pre-pandemic levels, but they cannot hire people at pre-pandemic levels. They have several positions, and those positions are offered first to furloughed workers – many of whom have moved on or choose not to work. Finding workers from the outside for the open positions is also a challenge, which follows the national labor shortage trend.
That is exactly the case for poker, Krum said, and they would like to hire new dealers and bring in former dealers to return the game to the customers, but cannot find the workers.
So, at the moment, they continue to operate the popular slot machines in the former poker loft area, and will only bring back the poker and other table games when they can find and train the staff to do so.
The MGC was very disappointed in the inability to provide poker to customers, and went into a legal analysis of the terms of Encore’s license – noting that the license is a Category 1 license beholden to offering slots and table games and is revocable.
“The question becomes what commitments did the applicant make in relations to offering poker,” said an MGC attorney.
Most of the Commissioners said they didn’t want to micromanage the casino operations, and there is precedent for the casino to adjust its offerings as customer demand and business conditions dictates. However, they did ask that Encore provide better communication in the future about taking away popular items like poker.
“I don’t think we’ll make a decision or make a vote, but I think it’s a chance to make the inquiries we want…and then as need be with future thoughts on recommendations,” said Chair Cathy Judd-Stein.
“Poker was replaced by high-revenue generating slot machines,” she continued. “I am thinking about that…because with each table game comes the idea of pretty high quality jobs. Table games produce more jobs and careers than slot machines. I don’t question your business decision. I’m struggling with this need for more communication.”
Commissioner Enrique Zuniga said he didn’t want to micromanage the casino, but they have to hold them accountable.
“I’m not interested in micromanaging the world-class organization you have,” he said. “On the other hand, commitments were made early on in the licensing and (a license) is a privilege and we have a job to do.”
MGC officials did detail that in many jurisdictions around the country, at least part of the poker tables were open, even if not at pre-pandemic levels.
“That does show that it’s not 100 percent across the US, but there is a lot of poker being played,” said Judd-Stein. “I wonder how much that workforce shortage is playing into this.”
Minors on The Gaming Floor
Encore reported in the second quarter that they intercepted 10 minors on the gaming floor, with an additional four being small children that accidentally got away from their parents.
Three minors were engaging in gaming, with one found on a slot machine and two at table games. Nine of them were found with alcohol while underage. The average time on the floor for them was 40 minutes before they were found out.
One 20-year-old spent nearly three hours on the floor before being turned away.
Krum said they are initiating a back-of-house training program to make sure everyone going on the floor has their ID checked.