Rolling the Dice

Rolling the Dice

Coverage of casino licensing and the gambling referendum

Encore eating into Conn., Rhode Island gambling revenue  

Encore eating into Conn., Rhode Island gambling revenue  

Everett casino pulls in nearly $50m in first full month 

THE ENCORE BOSTON HARBOR casino brought in close to $50 million during its first full month of operation, and the lavish riverfront gambling facility already appears to be taking a bite out of the New England casino market while also setting a new standard for table game revenue.

July revenue figures released by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission show the Everett casino pulled in $48.5 million, with $27.4 million coming from table games and $21.1 million from slot machine players. The casino spun off $12.1 million in taxes to the state.

The revenue numbers come in the wake of reports this week that Twin River Casino in Rhode Island will layoff 30 employees after July table game revenue fell by 34 percent at its main gambling facility in Lincoln. 

Meanwhile, the two tribal casinos in Connecticut saw big falloffs in slot machine revenue last month. Mohegan Sun reported a 15.1 percent drop in slot revenue, from $55 million in July 2018 to $46.7 million last month.  Foxwoods reported an 11.2 percent drop, from $42.8 million in slot revenue in July 2018 to $38 million. The two casinos have seen a steady erosion in revenue going back more than a decade, but the July numbers represent a much bigger drop than the declines recorded over the last several years. (The Connecticut tribal casinos have table games and slots, but only pay taxes and report to the state on slot revenue.) 

“Encore has certainly taken over the New England scene,” said Richard McGowan, a professor in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College who studies the gambling industry. 

Gambling proponents in Massachusetts long argued for bringing casinos here so the state could grab some of the lucrative casino market in neighboring Connecticut and Rhode Island and hold on to the millions of dollars spent across the border by Massachusetts residents.

A spokeswoman for Twin River Casino said there was no doubt that last month’s falloff in revenue there was a result of the new Everett casino. “The decline is due primarily to the recent opening of Encore Boston,” said Patti Doyle.

McGowan said the breakdown of gambling revenue at Encore, with $6 million more brought in from table games than slot machines, was remarkable. “For a casino to be taking in more money from table games than slot machines is incredibly unusual,” he said. “I don’t know of a casino that’s done it.”  

McGowan said it shows casino owner Wynn Resorts is meeting its goal of drawing lots of “high rollers” who gamble heavily at the higher-stakes table games. “That’s what Wynn wants, and so far they’ve been very successful at doing it,” McGowan said.

Wynn Resorts declined to comment on the July revenue figures, saying as a publicly traded company it will discuss them as part of its next quarterly earnings call.

The Encore casino, a massive $2.6 billion complex along the Mystic River, opened to great  fanfare in late June, and pulled in $16.7 million during its first week.

McGowan said the casino was projected to bring in roughly $600 million a year, a figure that Encore seems on track to approach if it maintains the level of business seen in July. 

The fate of the casino was thrown into uncertainty following allegations of sexual misconduct against Wynn Resorts founder and CEO Steve Wynn, first reported in January 2018 by the Wall Street Journal

Wynn Resorts severed all ties with its namesake, but questions about the broader conduct of company executives in dealing with the allegations against Steve Wynn led the state gaming commission to open an investigation into the company’s suitability to retain its license. The investigation found serious lapses by former executives who covered up allegations against Wynn. 

In May, Wynn Resorts agreed to pay a $35.5 million fine as a condition of retaining its license. It also paid a $500,000 fine levied against Matthew Maddox, who took over as president and CEO after Steve Wynn’s exit. 

The gaming commission also ordered appointment of an independent monitor, at the company’s expense, to review its compliance with a set of reforms ordered by the state panel related to human resource policies in the wake of the allegations against Steve Wynn.

On Thursday, the gaming commission announced that the Washington, DC-based law firm Miller & Chevalier Chartered has been retained to serve as the monitor overseeing Wynn’s compliance with the personnel requirements set forth by the commission. 

“Our firm will approach these objectives through the lens of our decades of experience building compliance programs across industries and through our extensive monitorship expertise,“ Alejandra Montenegro Almonte, a leader at the firm, said in a statement. “The process will be grounded on three inter-related principles — independence, efficiency, and transparency.” 

The firm received a five-year contract. Miller & Chevalier estimated that its fees for the first six months of the contract will be $575,000 to $775,000, based on an estimate of approximately 850 to 1,150 hours of work. 

“We look forward to working cooperatively with the [gaming commission’s] selected monitor and reviewing the significant changes in compliance and human resources programs we have implemented in the past 18 months,” Wynn Resorts spokesman Michael Weaver said in a statement.

The gaming commission also reported Thursday on July revenue figures for the state’s two other gambling facilities.

The MGM casino in Springfield pulled in $20.4 million last month, $15.5 million from slots and $4.9 million from table games. The state got $5 million in taxes for the month.

The Plainridge Park Casino brought in $12.5 million last month, with the state reaping $6.1 million in taxes from gambling proceeds. 

SE Mass. deserves casino gambling discussion

SE Mass. deserves casino gambling discussion

Economic stimulus badly needed in the region

THE ROAD TO CASINO gaming in Massachusetts has been long and winding, but nowhere as much as the place where it began – southeastern Massachusetts.

It’s been nearly eight years since the state authorized up to four gaming facilities in Massachusetts – three so-called category 1 casinos allocated by region and one category 2 slots-only facility.

However, southeastern Massachusetts has been fighting for a piece of the gaming pie for far longer.  Beginning in the 1990s, when the region was reeling from a decline in the fishing industry and a migration of traditional manufacturing overseas, political leaders and voters championed casino gaming through bills and referendums.

Little has changed today. No other region of the state needs more economic stimulus.  In Bristol and Barnstable counties, for example, the unemployment rate is 25 percent higher than the state average.  In New Bedford and Fall River, median income is half the state average, and one in five people lives in poverty.

Yet, despite being designated as one of the three regions allowed to host a casino, southeastern Massachusetts is no closer to getting one than when Fall River became the first community in the state to pass a referendum welcoming a casino two decades ago, followed quickly by New Bedford.

In the meantime, the Plainville slots parlor, MGM Springfield, and even Encore Boston Harbor, which faced a multitude of complexities and challenges, are all up and running – and generating tax and economic benefits for both the state and the communities in which they operate.  Adding insult to injury, Encore is sending shuttle buses to pick up gamblers in Plymouth County every 90 minutes.

MGM Springfield and the Plainville slots parlor alone have paid $371 million in taxes and payments to the state so far, with Encore generating $4.2 million in state tax revenue during its first week of operation.  Together, the three facilities have created 9,400 construction jobs and more than 7,500 permanent jobs.  Earlier this year, the town of Plainville cut the ribbon on a new $34 million town hall complex funded by revenue from the slots parlor.  In addition, surrounding communities have received hundreds of thousands of dollars for workforce development, infrastructure improvements, and other priorities.

The Legislature and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission should work together to get gaming in southeastern Massachusetts back on track.

To be sure, their task is not simple.  With new casinos in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, the gaming landscape has changed since the legislation was originally written.  The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s proposal under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is in serious doubt but continues to be a variable.  It may be that the region and the state cannot support another large destination resort casino.  It may make sense to use gaming as part of a broader economic development project or strategy.  These are all issues for the commission to consider and decide.

One thing is clear, however: The time to move forward with a serious discussion about casino gambling in southeastern Massachusetts is now.  The hard-working residents of region both need and deserve at least that.  After all, we paved the way.

Thomas Norton of Fall River is a former member and majority leader of the Massachusetts state senate.

Wynn fielding calls on adjacent land

Wynn fielding calls on adjacent land

Maddox on arena, other proposal: ‘We’re not in a rush’

THE CEO OF WYNN RESORTS said on Tuesday that his company has been approached by firms looking to partner on an arena or boutique entertainment ventures on land the company has purchased across the street from the Encore Boston Harbor casino.

Matt Maddox said just before the opening of the casino in June that he was looking to build an entertainment district next to the Everett casino, but he didn’t indicate he had received any actual proposals.

On a call with financial analysts following the company’s second-quarter earnings report, Maddox said Wynn has not developed a formal proposal yet for the land. “We’re not in a rush, but we really think that we’ll add to the area and the revenues of Encore Boston Harbor over the long term,” Maddox said.

The company had previously reported to state regulators that it took in $16.8 million in gaming revenues during its first eight days of operations. In the earnings report, the company said it received another $2 million over that eight-day period in non-gaming revenue from its hotel, restaurant, spa, and leasing operations. The company reported a fairly modest $100,000 in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization.

Maddox said the Everett casino property has done well so far on table games (they accounted for 45 percent of gambling revenues during the first eight days) but is still ramping up its slots and hotel business. He said the slots business could take a year to fully establish as the company builds a database of customers and learns what type of promotions work best on them. He said he wanted to avoid a promotions war with the casino’s competitors, “who are quite nervous about Encore Boston Harbor.”

The Wynn CEO said he doesn’t plan for Encore Boston Harbor to begin targeting the company’s regular VIP customers for another 90 days – until service levels at the Everett resort reach “Wynn standards.”

On an earnings call that was dominated with talk of the company’s operations in China and Las Vegas, Maddox sounded an optimistic tone about the firm’s relatively small $2.6 billion Boston venture. “We’re going to ramp Encore Boston Harbor to be the top grossing casino in the northeast,” he said.

June 17, 2019

Mohegan’s “all or nothing” challenge to Encore dismissed

Judge rules open meeting violations don’t warrant license revocation

RELATIVELY MINOR VIOLATIONS of the open meeting law by state gambling regulators shouldn’t invalidate Encore Boston Harbor’s casino license, a state judge wrote in dismissing a court challenge brought by a handful of Revere residents.

The three residents’ open meeting law challenge was part of a larger suit that Encore’s rival, Mohegan Sun, is pursuing against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, hoping to undo the award of the only casino license available in Metro Boston.

According to the ruling by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders, the Gaming Commission has acknowledged that it at times violated the open meeting law as a fledgling agency. The violations concerned meetings that touched on commission business, but the transparency issues were corrected and there is no evidence that the meetings “involved substantive discussion” about what company should be awarded the metro Boston casino license, Sanders wrote in her July 12 decision.

In September 2014, the commission awarded the casino license to Wynn Resorts, which last month opened Encore Boston Harbor, its first East Coast casino on a once-polluted site on the Mystic River. Mohegan Sun, which runs a major casino in Connecticut, had made a bid for the metro Boston license after Caesars Entertainment dropped out of contention. Mohegan had hoped to redevelop the Suffolk Downs horse track into a resort casino. Once the casino license was awarded to Wynn, Mohegan and the city of Revere, where much of Suffolk Downs is located, tried to claw their way back into the lucrative market through litigation, but so far have failed.

Sanders said the “all or nothing” remedy sought by the plaintiffs in the case was too extreme. “This court concludes that, based on the record before me and viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, ordering such a drastic remedy would be an abuse of discretion,” Sanders wrote.

Encore opened on June 23 and, in its first week of operation, visitors wagered $93.5 million, and the casino took in $16.7 million in gross gaming revenue.

In December 2015, Attorney General Maura Healey concluded a review for the Gaming Commission reporting that in general commissioners “gave careful attention” to the open meeting law, which requires deliberations for certain state agencies to occur in public, but said “certain aspects of the law proved particularly challenging for a startup agency where the Commissioners themselves conduct the fulltime work of the agency.”

The remainder of the lawsuit pursued by Mohegan is still pending. The suit, which deals with separate allegations of fairness in the licensing process, challenges the Gaming Commission’s award of a casino license to Wynn. On the more limited matter of public transparency in deliberations, Sanders indicated the stakes at play when contemplating taking the casino license away from Encore.

“Without a license, the casino might very well have to be shuttered,” Sanders wrote. “In short, the harm that would occur if this Court were to impose the remedy sought by the Plaintiffs would be extensive and, in certain respects, irreparable.”

Gaming Commission backs Encore on blackjack odds

Gaming Commission backs Encore on blackjack odds

Lawyer: Client intends to pursue theft allegation in court

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

AN INITIAL INVESTIGATION into the claims of a lawsuit alleging Encore Boston Harbor is duping customers by paying out at less favorable odds for blackjack wins found that the Everett casino is not violating any Gaming Commission rules or regulations, a commission official said Thursday.

The lawyer suing the Wynn Resorts casino for allegedly cheating players out of money by paying out a blackjack — when a player is dealt an ace and any card having a point value of 10 — at 6-to-5 odds rather than at 3-to-2 odds said Thursday he plans to pursue his case regardless of the commission’s ruling Thursday.

Reading attorney Joshua Garick on Monday filed a class action complaint against Encore Boston Harbor on behalf of client A. Richard Schuster claiming that the new Everett casino “brazenly stolen and will continue to steal” from customers by ignoring “established rules of the game of Blackjack to increase its statistical advantage and lower the lawful payouts owed to its customers.”

“While this may not sound significant, an analysis using conservative estimates and assumptions suggests that the aggregate loss to Massachusetts consumers is astounding. Assuming an average wager of $50.00 per hand and 80 hands of Blackjack per hour, Encore’s customers can expect to lose $35.60 per hour more than the losses they are already expected to incur in a fair Blackjack game that complies with Massachusetts law,” the suit alleges. “This means Encore is stealing $85,440.00 from its customers each day, or well in excess of $30 million each year.”

After the suit was filed and attracted media attention, the Gaming Commission added a discussion of it to its agenda for Thursday’s meeting.

“This lawsuit had people very concerned about whether Encore Boston Harbor, and indeed the commission’s oversight, was appropriate,” Commission Executive Director Edward Bedrosian said. “In terms of integrity of gaming, we thought it was appropriate to get in front of the commission as soon as possible.”

Bruce Band, assistant director of the commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, said his team of investigators “reviewed the claims and have preliminarily found Encore to be in compliance with the commission’s rules and regulations for paying out blackjack.”

Band said the Gaming Commission’s rules for blackjack use “6-to-5” in two different ways: one is to refer to a variation of blackjack that uses different dealing procedures than the standard game. That variation is authorized in Massachusetts but has never been used, he said. The other reference to “6-to-5” in the rules relates to standard blackjack and “includes options for the gaming licensee to pay out those wins at 3-to-2 or 6-to-5.”

He said the payout for a blackjack must be displayed on each table at the casino and that the preliminary investigation found that the payouts for blackjacks are properly displayed on Encore Boston Harbor’s tables.

“I feel the lawsuit is completely without merit,” Encore Boston Harbor President Robert DeSalvio said Thursday. “There’s really no issue at all on blackjack. None. Zero. The rules are the rules and we are following the rules exactly. And that’s what you heard from the commission today.”

Encore Boston Harbor offers 3-to-2 payouts on blackjack at 64.5 percent of its blackjack tables and pays out at 6-to-5 at 35.5 percent of its tables. DeSalvio said the odds usually depend on the wager per hand; when players must bet larger amounts of money per hand, the casino is more likely to pay out at more favorable odds.

“Clearly, customers can make a choice and that is very common in our industry. Typically, it depends a little bit on the limits of the games and so there are different variations,” he said.

Garick said after the commission meeting that he was “disappointed” that the Gaming Commission “conducted what they claim to be an investigation into our allegations” in such short time and then presented its findings while sitting at the same table as DeSalvio.

“We’ve read the regulations and it’s our interpretation of those regulations that the game of blackjack does not allow an eight-deck shoe where they pay 6-to-5 odds on a blackjack,” he said. “We intend to fully raise all these issues to a judge rather than in a commission where the inspector and representatives of the casino are sitting at the same table.”

Garick, who said no court date has been set for his suit, said he has no plans to sue the Gaming Commission but is “absolutely confident that the Encore casino is not in compliance with Massachusetts gaming regulations.”

Asked about the Gaming Commission’s reference to the option for a casino to pay blackjack wins at either 3-to-2 or 6-to-5,” Garick said the option “doesn’t exist.”

“My reading of the regulation shows that that doesn’t exist,” he said. “So we’re going to fully explore this, we’re going to bring this to the attention of the judge and we’ll see what the judge has to say.”

The commission’s rules for blackjack contemplate a situation in which “the licensee chooses the option to pay a blackjack at odds of 6 to 5 and doesn’t use the 6 to 5 variation.”

The lawsuit Garick filed also claimed that Encore lowered “the lawful payouts owed to its customers” by only dispensing whole dollar amounts at slot machine ticket redemption kiosks located around the casino floor.

When a player leaves a slot machine, the machine prints a voucher with the player’s balance which can then be redeemed either at a cashier’s cage — where the teller can dispense cash and coin — or at a kiosk that will dispense cash and another voucher for the balance of change. That voucher can either be redeemed at a cashier or played in a slot machine.

The lawsuit alleged that “Encore always rounds down, meaning a player will forfeit any amounts of the ticket above the last whole dollar amount” and that “all unclaimed funds are retained by Encore.” DeSalvio and Band said Thursday that those claims are unfounded; unclaimed winnings revert to the state’s gaming revenue fund.

“There is no way, shape or form that any customer is not getting exactly what they should get and nor is there any opportunity at the end of the year for unclaimed property to come back to the” casino, DeSalvio said. “There is no way possible that we would want to keep one penny of any customer’s money.”

He said Encore does not dispense coins at its self-serve redemption kiosks — MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino both dispense coins from their machines — for “customer service” reasons because it would require employees to constantly refill the coins in the machine and could result in delays redeeming vouchers.

After the Gaming Commission looked into the claims in the lawsuit, Encore added small signs to its redemption kiosks notifying players that the machines only dispense cash but change is available at the cashier booth. At the suggestion of commissioners Thursday, DeSalvio said the casino will consider adding some coin-dispensing machines to the casino floor.

“If I can actually add another option that would yet again make it even more convenient, happy to do so. We will certainly take a look at that and review that,” he said. He added, “It’s very easy to implement that.”

Garick said he was pleased to hear Thursday that Encore has already taken some action to make the voucher redemption process clearer for gamblers.

“I think that indicates they knew there some issues with the way that they were dispensing change to customers,” he said.

Encore gets seal of gaming commission approval

Encore gets seal of gaming commission approval

Official operating certificate granted days after casino launch

FOUR DAYS AFTER its grand opening, Greater Boston’s first casino won a conditional operating certificate on Thursday morning.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted unanimously to award the certificate that will enable Encore Boston Harbor to remain open around the clock for the foreseeable future, offering gamblers a range of 3,151 slot machines and 231 table games.

Eileen O’Brien, a member of the commission, was delegated to oversee test nights last week of casino operations, and gave the gambling facility temporary approval for Sunday’s opening.

The gaming regulators and staff of the Wynn Resorts property were in agreement that the opening of the casino in Everett has been smooth so far.

“Things are running well in there, and the counts are going well,” said Bruce Band, gaming agents division chief for the Gaming Commission. “All the teams seem to be running efficiently.”

The operation certificate is valid for the 15-year length of the casino license, according to the commission.

Bob DeSalvio, president of Encore Boston Harbor, said transportation – which had been a big question mark before the Sunday morning opening – has worked pretty well.

“This whole week it’s been relatively good,” said DeSalvio, who said the public has heeded Encore’s exhortations – backed by a $1 million ad campaign – to take public transit, or shuttles or boats provided by Encore rather than driving to the casino.  “People really did take advantage of the options. We had over a thousand people come by water on the first day,” DeSalvio said.

Commissioner Enrique Zuniga reported that he noticed a “remarkable amount” of bicycles parked in the casino’s employee bike parking area.

Encore, which had been expecting around 50,000 people to show up on opening day, hasn’t shared any headcounts, but the company reported that at noon on Sunday about 5,000 people were waiting in line to get in to the place.

Separately from the casino permitting, finalized just over 60 days ago, Gov. Charlie Baker said he expects to receive a report within 30 to 60 days about the area’s traffic congestion, which is an ongoing problem that was made more urgent by the derailment of an MBTA Red Line car two weeks ago. As time passes, officials will likely get a better handle on the impact the casino has had on transportation in the region.

The commission added a few conditions onto the certificate, requiring that Encore install additional panic alarms, cameras around bars, locks for a roulette wheel and other gambling equipment, and changes to the casino credit department location.

Jacqui Krum, an Encore executive, told the commission that the casino could bring itself into compliance with nearly all of those conditions within 90 days.

The Gaming Commission also reported a few outstanding issues not directly related to the operating certificate. Encore is negotiating with “green power” providers to ensure that at least 10 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources, which would include the casino’s on-site solar panels, according to a status report presented to commissioners.

Encore is also due to build some improvements around nearby MBTA repair shops, provide letters of compliance from surrounding communities, and make payments – which may have already been completed – to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the city of Everett, according to the status report given to commissioners for Thursday’s meeting.

Boston reports moderate traffic from Encore opening

Boston reports moderate traffic from Encore opening

No headcount yet on the number of casino visitors

A BIG CROWD turned out for the opening of Encore Boston Harbor on Sunday, but there is no official word yet on how attendance matched up against the casino’s prediction of roughly 50,000 visitors.

At noon Sunday, which was about two hours after the doors to the 24/7 gambling establishment opened to the public for the first time, there were roughly 5,000 people standing in line waiting to get in, according to Wynn Resorts spokesman Michael Weaver.

But Weaver on Monday did not provide a total headcount for the day, nor information about whether the on-site and nearby parking facilities were filled to capacity.

Late Sunday morning, a line of people snaked around the riverside promenade of the Everett resort. The line appeared to be hundreds of feet long and several yards wide, but in the period right after the casino opened, it moved relatively briskly – the pace of a slow stroll.

The casino is close to Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood, and Boston’s Transportation Department found that traffic on Sunday was moderate with no significant problems to report, according to a city spokesperson.

The city of Somerville, whose mayor Joe Curtatone sued to try to block the gambling palace, has collected baseline data on traffic and crashes on streets in the neighborhoods near the casino in recent years, but on Monday the city did not have analysis about whether the first day of Encore business had any significant traffic impact.

At Sullivan Square right across the Mystic River from the $2.6 billion casino, the roads leading into the rotary are typically jammed on weekdays during rush hour, but at various points during the day on Sunday they were relatively clear.

“The Highway Operations Center reports that from the standpoint of MassDOT, traffic in the area of the casino on Sunday, June 23, remained manageable with no major congestion issues,” the Massachusetts Department of Transportation said in a statement on Monday evening.

Encore Boston Harbor President Bob DeSalvio said the casino would spend $1 million on a marketing program to encourage visitors to take other forms of transportation aside from driving to the casino, and Encore has also invested in a fleet of buses and boats to ferry people to and from the resort, and has also provided subsidies for nearby roads and transit.

Tom Philbin, a spokesman for the city of Everett, said he thinks the “vast majority” of Sunday’s visitors took transit. The city, sandwiched between Malden and Chelsea, has no subway or commuter rail stops of its own, but there are some nearby and it has pioneered the use of bus-only travel lanes to speed public transit commutes.

While Wynn Resorts didn’t provide much hard data on the number of visitors to its newest property on Sunday, Weaver said the company was pleased with the turnout and reported the facility was able to handle the crowds.

“We were able to accommodate all guests inside Encore by 2:30 p.m. and had steady visitation throughout the afternoon and evening,” Weaver said on Monday. “We are very pleased with our visitation thus far and the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve received from guests about the Encore experience.”

On July 15 the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will offer another indication about the popularity of Encore in its first week of operation. That day the state’s gambling regulators will publicize the first revenue report on Encore Boston Harbor, covering the period from June 23-30.

In a little over one week of operation starting last August, MGM Springfield – the state’s first casino located in the state’s third-largest city – brought in $9.4 million in gross gaming revenue on $72.6 million in bets. In September, MGM’s first full month of operation, the casino took in $26.9 million, mostly from slots.

Touted as the state’s largest single-phase construction project, Encore Boston Harbor has ample space for gambling.

There are 206,474 square feet of gaming floor area, according to a spreadsheet provided by the Gaming Commission a few weeks before the casino’s opening. For comparison, the hangar-like Boston Convention and Exhibition Center advertises “516,000 square-feet of column-free, contiguous exhibit space.” MGM Springfield has 125,000 square feet of gaming space, according to the Gaming Commission.

Wynn Resorts formally opens for business

Wynn Resorts formally opens for business

Traffic not bad at the start of the day

WITH AN AUDACIOUS midmorning fireworks display, an emotional speech from the mayor of Everett, and a crowd of thousands lined up in the hot sun, Encore Boston Harbor threw open its doors to the public on Sunday.

In his speech Sunday morning, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria referenced the bruising regulatory and legal challenges that Wynn Resorts had to hurdle to transform a polluted patch of shoreline on the Mystic River into a gleaming $2.6 billion casino – the first in metro Boston and the second in Massachusetts.

“My wife and I and my kids have endured so much through this process, and if it weren’t for my wife, we wouldn’t be here today. And I want to thank her for standing by my side,” DeMaria told the crowd, many of whom had been waiting hours to be among the first placing wagers at the resort.

Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox recalled meeting with DeMaria on the site of a former Monsanto plant that had polluted the area with chemicals.

“I was standing on this site with the mayor – just us two – and there wasn’t a blade of grass on the site,” Maddox recalled. “Now there’s a thousand mature trees, 50,000 flowering plants, tens of thousands of shrubs, and a living shoreline for the first time in 100 years.”

Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox spoke to the crowd gathered for the opening of Encore Boston Harbor. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

The smokestacks of the Mystic Generating Station still tower over the skyline nearby, but Wynn has designs on that property, and DeMaria said the casino – which has artificial grass but real trees and flowers – has transformed the area across the river from Charlestown.

“When you drive through Everett, you’ll no longer smell gas and sulphur and oils, but you’ll smell flowers, trees,” DeMaria said. “We will no longer be the back door to the city of Boston. We will now be the front door to the city of Everett.”

After the speeches, barges floating in the water at low tide shot off colorful fireworks that were barely visible against the bright summer sky.

Encore had predicted roughly 50,000 visitors for Sunday, which could put a strain on the local transportation infrastructure, but there was no gridlock in the morning.

“Not too much traffic. We were shocked,” said Cathy Saffelo, a Somerville resident who parked in Somerville, and then walked to the casino.

“No traffic at all,” said John Feloni, who drove in from Somerville.

Rob Skilling, who lives in southern New Hampshire, said he left his house at around 5 a.m. and pulled into a parking garage about 45 minutes later. He was early enough to be one of the first people in line.

One man who declined to provide his name said that he took the Orange Line from the South End to a waiting shuttle at Wellington, describing the whole trip as “very efficient.” The man said he has gambled often at the Connecticut casinos but won’t anymore with a casino so conveniently located.

Elaine Wynn was feted at the opening of Encore Boston Harbor. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

The off-ramp from Interstate 93 to nearby Sullivan Square was practically empty, and there was traffic on Route 99 in front of the casino, but it wasn’t jammed. The next big test, transportation-wise, will come tomorrow when the casino’s second day in business will coincide with the first day of the work week.

After three test days last week, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission gave Encore approval to open to the public on Sunday, and the commission anticipates discussing a permanent certificate for casino operations at its meeting on Thursday.

The whole project was thrown into jeopardy when The Wall Street Journal in January 2018 exposed a lengthy history of allegations of sexual harassment and worse against Steve Wynn, who was then the company’s chairman and CEO. Steve Wynn resigned, and Wynn Resorts recently had to pay the Massachusetts Gaming Commission a fine of $35 million, with Maddox docked an additional $500,000, for the way he handled the situation.

Elaine Wynn, Steve Wynn’s ex-wife, who played a key role in bringing the old allegations to light, was feted at the casino opening. During his speech, DeMaria said he had enjoyed meeting her and other Wynn Resorts officials, telling them, “You’re wonderful people, and I’m so happy to be part of the organization.”

After the Gaming Commission levied the penalties on Wynn and Maddox, Wynn acknowledged to The Boston Globe that it had raised the possibility of selling the Everett casino to MGM, which opened the state’s first casino in Springfield last year. Maddox on Friday said the casino is not for sale, and DeMaria indicated he never had any doubt that Wynn Resorts would be the parent company for the Everett resort.

“This was always going to stay a Wynn and part of the Wynn collection. It was never going anywhere else. There was a promise made to me by a certain fellow that said ‘We’re partners for life, and our company’s going to be part of your community,’” DeMaria said. “I’m that type of guy. When someone gives me their word, I figure we’re partners. We’re not going anywhere.”

The casino, which is the product of the 2011 state gaming law, plans to employ 5,800 people, and it could have broader implications on the regional economy. Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian on Saturday announced the completion of a three-year gambling survey of 5,000 people entering the jail or house of correction. The study found only 20 percent of respondents said they gamble – compared to 70 percent of the state as a whole, according to a different study. Only 1.3 percent of the inmates and detainees reported their last betting experience took place online or at a casino, but those who had recently bet at a casino reported spending much more on gambling than those who played the lottery.

“With the introduction of expanded gaming in the Commonwealth, it is crucial to establish the level to which those in our custody are involved in gaming,” said Koutoujian in a statement. “Because just as substance use, mental illness, homelessness and educational deficiencies can contribute to incarceration – so too, can gambling.  Understanding who is in our custody and the underlying factors that lead them to us is critical to enhancing public safety.”

You’ve got to check it out

You’ve got to check it out

For $2.6b, a bit of high-end Vegas in Everett

HERE’S SOME TIDBITS picked up on a media tour inside Encore Boston Harbor on Friday.

This is a unique place, with lots of local flavor, but if you’ve been to either of the two Wynn Resorts properties in Las Vegas a lot will feel familiar – the flowery décor, the serene spa, and the heavy emphasis on personal attention. My guide said he previously worked at the Hard Rock Café in Atlantic City, which had 2,000 rooms (versus 671 at Encore Boston Harbor) and an even bigger casino floor. But he said the Hard Rock had 3,500 employees, while Encore Boston Harbor has more than 5,000 as it heads to the target level of 5,800 employees. Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox said the facility’s payroll is $300 million.

The casino floor at Encore Boston Harbor is 210,000 square feet with 3,100 slots and 231 table games. There’s a separate, upper level for the high-stakes games. My guide said the casino floor at Encore Boston Harbor is bigger than the casino floors at both of Wynn’s properties in Vegas combined.

The rooms at Encore Boston Harbor are similar to those at Wynn in Las Vegas. The standard room is 650 square feet, the largest in New England, and features a large bathroom with separate bath and shower. Most of the gadgets in the room, including the TV and the window drapes, are controlled by Alexa or an iPad next to the bed. The room rate is $650 to $695 a night weekdays.

The buffet at Encore Boston Harbor. (Photo courtesy of Wynn Resorts)

I also visited one of the 5,800-square feet, two-story villas on the top floor (26th for those counting) featuring three bedrooms, 3 ½ baths, a game room with pool table and TV, an exercise room, and a massive great room. I was told the villa goes for $15,000 to $25,000 a night.

The ballroom, which doubles as a convention center, is 37,000 square feet, which is apparently the largest in the city. It can be configured for just about any type of event, from weddings to professional boxing. The view at one end of the room of the Mystic River is quite stunning, even on a rainy Friday. There are plans to put up tents outside on nice evenings, and I’m assured the artificial grass is designed so it will stand up to and support women in high heels.

The all-you-can-eat buffet wasn’t serving food when I visited, but it looked a bit more interesting than most buffets. Chef Sidney Semedo of Roxbury said the buffet has everything from sushi to New England clam chowder to gelato. The current price weekdays is just under $30 for lunch and $45 for dinner. Weekend rates are still being formulated.

At Rare, the steakhouse, they’re asking for trouble with the white leather chairs. They even had little white leather chairs stashed around a corner that I thought were booster seats for children but are actually used for holding women’s purses.

Big Night Entertainment Group, the local restaurant and nightclub operator, is placing a big bet on Encore Boston Harbor, opening a dance club called Memoire and a restaurant called Mystique at the property. Both venues are pretty cool. Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal is the DJ at Memoire on the 27th. General admission is $40 or you can get a private table and prepare to pay a lot more.

Mystique, a restaurant of Big Night Entertainment Group, at Encore Boston Harbor. (Photo courtesy of Wynn Resorts)

Ed Kane, a principal at Big Night, showed us around Mystique, which would appear to be a great place to have a drink or something to eat. Kane said Mystique is Big Night’s 29th place, and he believes it’s the best project he’s ever done, in part because he learned so much from the Wynn Resorts people. He said the arrival of Encore Boston Harbor has “broken the entertainment ceiling” in Boston.

The views all across the resort are designed to steer you toward the Boston skyline, the Mystic River, or shrubs, trees, and flowers planted throughout the complex. But there’s no getting around the fact that outside one end of the hotel there is a Costco and a Target and off to the other side are the many towers of a massive power plant.

Kane says the power plant tower doesn’t bother him and he doesn’t think it will bother his patrons.

“I don’t see it really,” he says.

Wynn talks up entertainment district in Everett

Wynn talks up entertainment district in Everett

Maddox, sounding bullish, looks to expand, says casino not for sale

THE TUNE has certainly changed at Wynn Resorts.

A little over a month ago the company announced it was exploring the sale of Encore Boston Harbor to MGM Resorts. Those talks were called off, and CEO Matt Maddox stated emphatically on Friday that the company would not consider selling the property and indeed views it as the anchor for an expanding entertainment district in Everett over the next decade.

“Encore Boston Harbor is not for sale,” Maddox said at a press conference in the facility’s buffet area just off the massive casino floor. “We feel very confident about the location, the partnership with the city, and what this property will generate in the Northeast.”

Maddox said the company has acquired 11 acres of undeveloped property across from the hotel over the last four years and is likely to add even more.

“We want to work with the city to create an entertainment district. It’s not all going to be our company – Wynn,” he said. “We want to work with lots of local developers, potentially other hoteliers, convention centers, etc. But our idea, along with the mayor’s, is to continue to redevelop the area so it’s known as the entertainment district in the Northeast.”

Maddox said the hotel, casino, and convention center that are about to open to the public on Sunday are the first step. “This is what happens,” he said. “You build the anchor and all of a sudden everyone looks around and says, ‘Look at the opportunity.’”

That’s music to the ears of Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who talks up the “second phase” of the project every chance he gets. On Wednesday, he said it was his understanding that many of the power plants across the street from the resort are up for sale, and there is strong interest from a number of buyers, including Wynn Resorts.

Maddox sounded bullish on the Boston market, saying he believes Encore Boston Harbor will have an impact regionally as well as internationally.

“I do think that there will be an impact [on Connecticut’s casinos] because, as you know, a lot of the Connecticut market is Massachusetts. Clearly our facility, I believe, is superior and the location and the service are five star. One thing I don’t want to get lost in this is we are in the business of tourism. We believe our company will be able to attract significant international tourism because people are really interested in coming to Boston. This is a great tourist destination,” Maddox said. “We’re focused on the region, but we’re really focused on the planet.”

Maddox said gamblers from the Far East are coming next week to check the resort out along with 25 journalists from Japan, where Wynn Resorts is investigating new casino options. Maddox said many in the casino industry are interested in what Wynn Resorts has done in Everett, building an integrated resort that plays a strong role in urban renewal.

Steve Wynn, who left the company last year amid allegations of sexual impropriety, was not mentioned during the press conference except when DeMaria referred to some early discussions with him in the early stages of the project. In many respects, however, the hotel and casino were the brainchild of Steve Wynn and carry his imprint.