Poker players will have to wait

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission approved the health and safety guidelines for reopening casinos. The main takeaway for our readers: there will be no poker for a while.

No date has been set yet for when Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park Casino will be allowed to reopen. That date will come when Governor Charles Baker decides that the state can advance to Phase 3 of its reopening plan.

Craps and roulette, too

In addition to poker, craps and roulette are off the table (no pun intended) “until further notice.” The difference between these and other table games is the higher difficulty of social distancing. We know how much poker lends itself to virus spreading, that’s a given. Craps and roulette are very social games, with large tables that can accommodate many players and lend themselves to spectating. Most casinos that have reopened around the country – more than three-quarters of the casinos have done so already – do not permit onlookers to congregate around tables, but that is not an easy thing to restrict.

The unavailability of poker immediately upon reopening is not unexpected. Most poker rooms have remained close, even if their casinos have opened. Just a handful of poker rooms have reopened in Las Vegas and all are limited to five-handed tables. The original rule in Nevada was four-handed, but the casinos requested that limit be raised and the Gaming Control Board acceded.

In a press release, Massachusetts Gaming Commission chair Cathy Judd-Stein said:

The MGC is working to ensure a safe and sustainable reopening, issuing guidelines today that will no doubt shift to reflect the changing public health data over time. We are confident that our three licensees will work in good faith to implement and enforce these measures. We also know that the success of a reopening will require the casino patrons’ cooperative efforts, thoughtful awareness, and empathy for one another and the greater community.

Strict health measures required

The three casinos are required to submit a detailed health and safety plan at least seven days before reopening.

Other regulations on the casino include mandatory plexiglass barriers between each player seat and between the players and dealer at all table games. Said barriers must be at least 5’ 10” high. Only three players will be allowed per table.

Slot machines must be spaced at least six feet apart or they must be separated by dividers that are at least six-feet high.

All casino patrons and employees must wear protective face masks, a change from what many states have done, where only employees are required to wear masks. Some states and individual casinos have changed course, mandating face protection for everyone as COVID-19 cases spike.

Massachusetts has been one of the hardest-hit states by the novel coronavirus, largely because of its population size and density. Fortunately, it has been one of the most successful at flattening the curve, and its seven-day average of new cases is steadily declining. There were only 149 new cases of the virus on Monday.

Encore Boston Harbor Poker Room Image credit: EBH – Barbara Kraft

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