Massachusetts casino crowds under 25% COVID limit

Massachusetts three casinos — MGM Springfield, Everett’s Encore Boston Harbor and Plainridge Park — draw enough people to bump up against the state-imposed 25% capacity limit imposed last month by Gov. Charlie Baker in the face of surging COVID cases. Occupancy is at about 19%, said Bruce Band, assistant director of the Gaming Agents Division of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. That means the three casinos are not forced to turn anyone away, state regulators said during a meeting Tuesday of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. But occupancy numbers also show how slow business really is. The Gaming Commission releases new gross gaming revenue numbers and tax receipt data for December 2020 tomorrow. The revenue numbers always come out on the 15th of the month.

MGM Springfield’s biggest crowd in recent weeks was 22% of its capacity for its “Winning Wonderland” new car drawing Dec. 26 which was a Saturday and the day after Christmas. After the promotion, the occupancies fell back to about 19%.

Plainridge Park reached a high of 19% on Dec. 26 and Friday, Jan 8. Encore hit 19% on New Year’s Day and was at 17% the rest of the time, Band said. “This time of year tends to be a little slower time of year, anyway,” Band said. “So we are kind of lucky with that anyway,”

In December, Baker imposed 25% capacity limits on most businesses coupled with a closing time of no later than 9:30 p.m. The Gaming Commission also approved the restrictions. The 25% cap went into effect Dec. 26 and will remain in place until at least Jan. 24. In March 2020, the Gaming Commission closed the three casinos at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. They reopened in July with reduced capacities, generally at 40%.

For MGM Springfield, that meant capacity capped at 3,000, compared with a pre-pandemic capacity of 8,000. The new restrictions, which took effect Dec. 26, limit casino occupancy to 25% of the capacity listed on the building permit. Staff members are included in the occupancy counts. In Springfield, that means a capacity of 2,000 people. The 25% limit applies to amenities as well, such as the horse racing simulcast parlors at Suffolk Downs, Raynham Park and Plainridge Park.

Commissioners also heard Thursday that there have been 147 COVID positives among employees at all three sites since the casinos reopened. Those employees report having gotten the deadly virus from someone at home, said Loretta Lillios, director of the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau. The Gaming Commission has found no clusters of COVID among groups of casino employees working together.

Commissioners also voted Thursday to promote Lillios from her role as acting director to the permanent role.