MA Gaming Commission May File Amicus Brief in Encore Boston Case

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission may issue amicus briefs in a now old case against Encore Boston Harbor focusing on “the blackjack 6-to-5 odds payouts”. The Wynn Resorts-owned property was already cleared of any wrongdoing in 2019, but plaintiffs have requested the Supreme Judicial Court to weigh in one last time. The commission is convinced that Encore Boston was in compliance with established regulation at the time but will comply with a court-mandated request.

Massachusetts Gaming Commission to Acknowledge Amicus Brief Request

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) has announced that it would follow up with a request from the Supreme Judicial Court and file an amicus brief in the case citing Wynn Resorts’ Encore Boston Harbor which is the subject of a class-action lawsuit.

While the case has been dismissed by the company as “lacking merit,” plaintiffs have pressed the matter. Essentially, the lawsuit stipulates that “Encore Boston Harbor has been duping customers” by adjusting the blackjack odds at the casino to less favorable payouts.

After initially remaining hesitant to intervene, the MGC has decided to act on the request for an amicus brief, which essentially asks the regulator to provide the court with additional information it may need in establishing the truthfulness of the claim. The regulator took the decision last Wednesday fearing that a refusal to file an amicus brief may be seen as playing favors with casino operators. A unanimous 4-0 vote in favor sealed the deal.

The case dates back to 2019. Filed with a U.S. District Court, the lawsuit explains that instead of the normal 3-to-2 odds when players are dealt an ace and a ten-value card, players are offered 6-to-5 odds instead. According to the lawsuit, which cites an analysis, customers who play blackjack at the casino may expect to lose $35.60 more per hour, based on the example used.

Plaintiffs have gone further and alleged that Encore is stealing $85,440.00 from its customers each day or well in excess of $30 million each year.” A claim that the company and property have vehemently denied. Furthermore, the Gaming Commission has already conducted an investigation into Encore Boston Harbor’s operations and explained that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the property and its management.

However, because a similar case has been brought up against MGM Springfield, plaintiffs are now asking Supreme Judicial Court justices to weigh in on the issue. Essentially, the lawsuit is asking:

“Did the February 11, 2019 version of the Rules of Blackjack that were published by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and posted on its website … permit a Massachusetts casino to pay 6:5 odds to a player who was dealt a winning Blackjack hand, while not otherwise playing by the ‘6 to 5 Blackjack Variation’ rules that were articulated in Rule 6a of the February 11, 2019 version of the Rules of Blackjack?”

The commission has long been trying to avoid filing an amicus brief, but it has changed its position during January’s executive hearings and confirmed that should a court seek out a brief, it would proceed to file one. Arguments in favor and against Encore Boston Harbor’s decision will be heard by the Court on April 7. However, before a brief may be filed, the attorney general’s office must approve the procedure, after which point the documents must be presented by March 17.

MGM Encore Harbor Was Cleared of All Wrongdoing

While plaintiffs have not relented, it’s important to understand that the commission has not sat idly by. In fact, the MGC has already intervened in the matter, back in July 2019 when the case against the casino was brought on. At the time, the regulator’s assistant director of Investigations and Enforcement Bureau (IEB), Bruce Brad, explained that Encore Boston Harbor was in compliance with the rules set out by the commission.

He explained that, depending on the version of the game, the casinos had the right to pay wins based on 3-to-2 or 6-to-5 odds, and that insofar as the issue was concerned Encore Boston Harbor has complied in full. At the time he explained that as long as the paytable is displayed and clearly-defined for players to see, there were no violations.

Karen Wells, the executive director who was in charge of the IEB investigation, explained that the commission should seek more clarity in the matter to assure the public that the integrity of casino games across Massachusetts is upheld and subject to regulatory scrutiny.

Rules were amended in October to remove the 6-to-5 variation mention and ensure clarity in the way blackjack rules are interpreted.

MGC general associate counsel Carrie Torrisi explained that the changes focus on these concerns and “clarify the meaning of 6-to-5 by eliminating the 6-to-5 variation from the game of blackjack and we think that addresses the issues.” Encore Boston Harbor’s construction generated economic activity to the tune of $1.6 billion for the state.

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