The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) moved quickly last week to investigate claims in a class-action lawsuit against Encore Boston Harbor, and then announce on Thursday they felt Encore’s practices were appropriate – that the lawsuit “conflates” state regulations on Blackjack.
“We reviewed the claim and have preliminarily found Encore to be in compliance for payouts on Blackjack,” said Bruce Band, assistant director of the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau (IEB). “The word ‘conflate’ is exactly right here. Six-to-five is used for two things. One is a variation sub-game of Blackjack that so far hasn’t been dealt anywhere in Massachusetts. Six-to-five is also a type of payout for someone playing standard Blackjack if they hit a Blackjack. You need to know what they odds are at that table if they hit a Blackjack. That’s what that is.”
The lawsuit was filed by Attorney Joshua Garick on behalf of Richard Schuster of New York in a class-action format. Schuster had played at the Encore and alleged that they were playing the Blackjack game wrong, and that they were withholding change from patrons at the electronic redemption machines.
In terms of the change machines, Band said the machines at Encore payout dollar amounts, and then dispense certificates for the change. Those certificates are good for one year and can be claimed at the cashier. However, they can also be used at another slot machine.
Band said they felt that the redemption machines were operating at standard procedures for a casino, but they suggested a sign be placed on the machine making it clear what is happening with the change.
“What we did find was it probably wasn’t stated clearly enough so they have added a sign that clearly expresses this on the machine,” said Band.
Both claims, one on Blackjack and one on the change machines, were refuted by the MGC. Commissioners assured everyone that there is a state process for unclaimed winnings, and none of that money remains or stays with Encore. It is kept in a type of escrow account, and then turned over to the state at the end of one year.
All of it was much to the delight of Encore officials.
“I feel the lawsuit is completely without merit, and I was particularly interested in the issue about the redemption of the slot tickets,” said President Bob DeSalvio. “There were allegations in there that for some reason they thought we might be rounding to our favor. It is completely, utterly false. Every customer gets every penny they deserve at Encore Boston Harbor. Never would we engage in a practice that would actually keep any of a customer’s money they deserve. There is no way, shape or form any customer is not getting exactly what they should get. Nor is there any opportunity at the end of the year for any unclaimed monies to come back to the property.”
DeSalvio also said emphatically that Encore is following all of the Blackjack rules, and the MGC agreed with that in its report.
“The claims in the lawsuit are false and unfounded,” he said. “They went back and looked at our procedures. They went back and looked at our games. They went back and looked at the felt on the tables. What they found is they are all exactly as they should be. 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 the Commission say.”
But Attorney Garick said he wasn’t pleased with the ruling by the MGC, and that’s why his client will take the matter before an impartial judge.
“It’s our interpretation of the regulations is that the game of Blackjack does not allow an eight-deck shoe where they pay 6-to-5 odds on the Blackjack,” he said. “We intend to fully raise all these issues to a judge rather than in a Commission where the inspector and the casino representatives are sitting at the same table.”
DeSalvio said they are going to seriously consider putting some electronic redemption machines on the floor that have the ability to dispense change. He said they made a customer-based decision early on to only put out machines that dispensed dollars. He said customers – especially at high-volume times – would rather not wait for a machine to be filled with pennies to get their dollar winnings.
“We will go back and take a look at having certain units on the floor that would make it more convenient to get the change,” he said. “Understand, the reason we did it this way was actually for customer convenience because if you are standing in front of one of those redemption units and it was to run out of pennies, and you had to wait 30 or 40 minutes, I’ll be you would be more upset about having to wait for five cents or 15 cents because that machine will lock up until it’s refilled with coin. The reason we did it was for customer service. If I can add another option to make it even more convenient for customers, I’m happy to do so. I’ll certainly take a look at that.”
Garick said they were happy the Commission and Encore paid attention to the suit, and that they were happy that some changes – like the change machines – were being considered.
“We’re certainly happy they have heeded the issues addressed in our lawsuit and have made some changes to the procedures they have,” he said. “I think that indicates they knew that there was some issues with the way they were dispensing change to customers. Frankly, I think this idea that people don’t want to wait for change is kind of a cop out. If I went to a table game and had $9.90 and the table minimum was $10, well they would wait for me to find that extra 10 cents…At this point the money is maintained by the casino. The regulations do require that after one year the money is paid to the state. We’re aware of that, but that doesn’t mean the consumer should be out that money that belongs to them.”
Garick said they didn’t plan to sue the MGC, and he said they did not have a court date yet.
DeSalvio said their attorneys would be responding to the suit “post haste.”