Blackjack players lose their bet at the SJC

High court finds in favor of casinos on game rules

“ACCORDING TO THE WISE gambling proverb, ‘If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.’” 

So begins a Supreme Judicial Court ruling written by Justice Scott Kafker and released Wednesday, which concluded that blackjack players at the state’s two resort casinos knew the rules of the game when they sat down at their tables – and, therefore, they cannot challenge the rules later on.  

As Kafker concluded in a 31-page unanimous decision finding in favor of the casinos, “the plaintiffs lose this last bet. They should have quit while they were ahead.” 

As CommonWealth previously reported, players at MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor challenged whether the two casinos were legally allowed to offer odds that were less favorable than is typical for blackjack. 

Generally, blackjack is played with odds of 3 to 2 – a $150 payout for a $100 bet. But the game can be played with 6-to-5 odds – a $120 payout for a $100 bet. Generally, the 6-to-5 odds – which are less advantageous to the player – are paid in a variation of the game with slightly different rules that increase the player’s advantage. 

Until the lawsuits were brought, however, Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield were running blackjack games with the traditional rules but with 6-to-5 odds. Players Richard Schuster at Encore and Ted DeCosmo at MGM argued that the casinos should not have been allowed to run games with the traditional rules but the lower payout. 

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission later clarified its rules to make clear that the casinos can offer the traditional version of the game with lower odds, as long as the rules are obvious to players in advance. But the lawsuit could have resulted in the casinos having to compensate players who played blackjack before the commission clarified its rules.  

The SJC’s decision, however, made clear that the casinos were within their rights in how they structured the games.  

The ruling writes that the gaming commission’s blackjack rules do contemplate the use of 6:5 odds in some way. That said, the commission’s rules were confusing and ambiguous, and one part of the rule appeared to conflict with another part about whether offering the 6:5 variation of the game was an option or a requirement when offering 6:5 odds. But the court ultimately deferred to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to interpret its own regulations. The Gaming Commission had stated that giving a 6:5 payout with traditional rules was allowed, as long as the rules were displayed.  

In these instances, the rules were displayed at the casino tables in plain sight. 

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

There is no indication that the casinos attempted to deceive players as to the rules of the game or the stakes they were playing,” Kafker wrote.  

Kafker continued, “Although Encore and MGM chose to operate a house-friendly game, they did not deceive players into believing it would be more player-friendly than it actually was.”