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Encore Boston Harbour approved to build a dedicated poker room

Massachusetts gaming regulator has given Wynn Resorts permission to expand its Encore Boston Harbor property. With the legalization of casino sports betting in the commonwealth, the Everett-based casino decided to expand its resort footprint past its original property.

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) opted to interpret the 2013 gaming referendum on Everett and allow gaming on at least one other portion of land across from Encore Boston Harbor’s original site. This will permit Wynn Resorts, Encore’s parent company, to carry on with the resort-style casino’s expansion.

Wynn Resorts intends to build an extension across Broadway from Encore Boston Harbor with a dedicated poker room, another sports betting parlor, a theater, a relocated nightclub, a parking garage, and more.

The MGC agreed that the 2013 referendum could be interpreted as commercial gaming being allowed in the current casino’s general vicinity.

Last March, the Gaming commission ruled that a former version of Wynn’s proposal for the development would not be included in the casino’s official gaming facility. This exempted it from being under the jurisdiction or oversight of the commission, a result Encore had lobbied for.

When Massachusetts legalized sports betting last summer, the gaming operator altered its plans, wanting casino gaming and sports betting to be offered at the “east of broadway” expansion. Both would require the new facility as part of the existing casino and would need to be regulated by the MGC.

The Gaming Commission, in addition to other state and city officials, will now be able to review the entire project due to the MGC’s decision on Wednesday.

The commission voted 4-1 in favor of Wynn Resort’s planned expansion in the meeting. The only dissenter was commissioner Eileen O’Brien who stated that she saw the decade-old approval as “site-specific.” She also said she was ill at ease because there was no definite answer about the boundaries of the site approved in the 2023 referendum.

“I’m not opining on the appropriateness of the proposed expansion, what it would do; I think the plans for revitalization are fantastic for that area. What I am not satisfied with is any request that we say, ‘you can expand, but I still can’t tell you where the end of the expansion can go’,” O’Brien said.

“I am not comfortable with the ‘I know it when I see it’ response. But more importantly, I still don’t know where the outer boundaries of this are. And I don’t think that what we’re doing today is the end of the discussion, because I feel like this is going to continue to happen.”

The rest of the MGC commissioners were satisfied with the explanation that the voters in the 2013 referendum understood that the former Monsanto site reference was basically shorthand for a bigger part of the lower Broadway neighborhood.

According to Commissioner Brad Hill, the language used in the casino-city agreement on the impact of the casino expansion on the city’s impact fee signified that “they expected that there would be some type of expansion in that area, not specific to the location that they are currently in.”

With the commission’s approval, Wynn officials revealed that the gaming venue could start finalizing its plans for expansion. Encore Boston Harbor is considering setting up two new hotel towers asides from its existing standalone gaming building.

The resort-style casino has 671 guest rooms currently, and according to the full-year earnings report released earlier, Encore Boston had a 91.4% occupancy rate in 2022.

Due to the popularity of its rooms, the gaming venue has considered adding 800 new rooms to the hotel towers in its new site. That part of the expansion project will not need the approval of the MGC because it does not include gaming. However, it requires the local government to sign off on it.

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