Massachusetts Casinos Blame Poker’s Absence on Dealer Shortage

Encore Boston Harbor Casino
There is a shortage of poker dealers in the Massachusetts casinos.

This was revealed by a casino executive during a Thursday hearing by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The issue was raised after the commission had received complaints from customers demanding the reintroduction of poker games at Massachusetts’ casinos.

Encore Boston and MGM Springfield, the two casinos in the state, resumed mostly normal operations last May after a difficult 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But since their full reopening, the two casinos have not brought back poker games and the commission started to notice after receiving customer complaints.

Although the two casinos said that they will make a decision on poker before the end of the year, they also insisted that they have not abandoned poker games and are currently adjusting their services based on the client demand and the capacity of their manpowe.

Said Encore Boston Harbor vice-president and general counsel Jaqui Krum to the commission:

“To be clear, we did not say never to poker. We have said just not at this time. We’re constantly readjusting our offerings based on guest demand. Throughout this difficult time, we have really tried to be agile and responsive. However, we do have limited space, and the former poker area is currently occupied by some of our highest-performing slot machines.”

“Simply Cannot Find Enough Dealers”

Krum said that reopening poker tables would cause the closure of other table games. She said that the casino just doesn’t have the staff to operate both right now. According to Krum, Encore “simply cannot find enough dealers” or other workers and has been running dealer schools almost non-stop.

The Encore executive also told commissioners that the casino has a standing offer to all of its poker dealers that the casino will pay for dealer school if they need to be trained to deal a different game in the casino. She also emphasized that Encore is not trying to cut jobs but rather to fit its offerings around the staff that it has available.

Increasing Customer Complaints

Investigations and Enforcement Bureau assistant director Bruce Band told the Commission during Thursday’s hearing that his office has received an increasing number of customer complaints. According to Band, the complaints about the lack of Poker games at Encore have grown from 4 to 5 per month to 40-50 per month in its most recent tally.

Despite that, the Commission decided that it would not take action related to poker just yet with commissioners saying that they want to give the casino operator deference to run the facility in a way that will maximize tax revenue to the state while preserving jobs that come with poker games. The commission however, asked for regular updated of the situation from Encore.

Cherokee Tribal Council Approves $275M Expansion of Valley River Casino

North Carolina Flag

The Cherokee Tribal Council recently approved a master plan for a major expansion at the Valley River Casino in Murphy.

The approved master plan represents an investment of more than double the $110M spent to create the initial facility in 2015. The Valley River Casino opened with a gaming area of 50,000 square feet, 1,050 slot machines, 70 table games, and a food court type dining area. In 2018, 41,000 square feet of of entertainment area was added in a $13M renovation. To keep it edge over the competition, a large-scale expansion was needed.

Said Harrah’s Regional Vice President for Marketing Brian Saunooke:

“We’re thrilled with Tribal Council’s support of the resolution and are optimistic that Chief Sneed will ratify the resolution.”

A $275M Project Cost

According to the resolution, the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise will appoint JCJ Architecture to conceptualize and develop the project design while also providing for the cost estimate. For the project, the TCGE will obtain a loan not to exceed the amount of $275M.

The resolution did not name the projects in the master plan and the latter was not made public. However, key features in the expansion include an additional hotel tower, a new dining venue, a hotel lobby cafe, a spa, and indoor pool, additional gaming space, and additional parking.

North Carolina’s First Sports Betting Venues

Last March, the Cherokees partnered with Caesars Entertainment and William Hill U.S. to open the state’s first sports betting venues just in time for the NCAA’s March Madness. Dubbed as The Book, the sportsbooks opened at the Valley River Casino and at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee.

The sportsbook at the Valley River Casino has a 32-foot ultra-high definition screen and comfortable reclining chairs. It boasts of a total of gour ticket-writer windows and five self-service betting kiosks.

San Manuel Casino to Open First Phase of Expansion on July 24

Wheel Of Fortune Slot
San Manuel Casino will be opening Phase 1 of its expansion on July 24th, which coincides with its 35th anniversary.

The casino first opened as a bingo hall on July 24, 1986. In 1994, the bingo hall transformed to a 100,000 square foot casino that featured slot machines and table games.

Major Expansion

San Manuel Casino is in the middle of a major expansion project that will add the property’s first-ever resort with 432 rooms including 127 suites. A new entertainment venue, a pool deck with its own bar and private cabanas, a spa, expanded gaming space, new dining options, and retail stores.

The opening phase of the expansion includes a larger gaming space, a 24-hour restaurant, a high end dining venue, and 1,300 brand new slot machines. Later this year, the hotel is expected to open while the event center is expected to be completed in early 2022.

Looking to Hire For Thousands of Positions

With its large-scale project, the San Manuel Casino is currently looking to hire approximately 2,500 job employees to fill permanent positions by the end of this year. Interested jobseekers can browse the list of vacancies at the casino’s website at sanmanuelcareers.com.

Recruitment for cooks, cashiers, custodians, janitors, groundskeepers, and other hospitality jobs will begin this month. San Manuel Casino is giving $1,000 in welcome bonuses to those who will be hired while perks of up to $300 will be given to those that will be hired as cooks, kitchen workers, and custodial staff.

Catawba Two Kings Casino Set for July 1 Pre-Launch

North Carolina Flag

Thursday will be a milestone for the Catawba Nation as its Catawba Two Kings Casino”pre-launch” facility will open to the public.

The launch comes after the federal government approved the revenue sharing pact between the Catawba Nation and the state of North Carolina. That agreement was signed off by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs last March.

Pre-Launch Site

Constructed using prefabricated modulars, the pre-launch site in Kings Mountain, North Carolina is set to offer 500 slot machines spread across 14,700 square feet of gaming area.

The initial casino will be smoke-free but smoking areas will be designated outside the temporary casino. Aside from a snack bar and service bar, food trucks will also be positioned in the property.

The construction of the pre-launch site began three months ago and it has employed 250 people on site. According to Catawba assistant chief Jason Harris, around 25% of the construction workers are from the tribe, including all the slot technicians.

Construction of Permanent Facility

The next phase of the master plan begins later this year when construction of the $273M permanent casino at the same site commences. That part of the project broke ground in July 2020 and is expected to be completed in about a year.

Situated off Dixon School Road in Kings Mountain, Cleveland County, the 17-acre site is near Interstate 85 and about 35 miles west off Charlotte. Once completed, it will have a total of 1,800 slot machines and gaming table seats.

The Catawba Two Kings Casino will employ 2,600 employees but its residual impact will create thousands more. According to officials, an estimated 4,000 permanent jobs will open up for the community.

Years in the Making

The Catawba Nation has been pursuing a casino for eight years now. However, their initial efforts to develop one in South Carolina, where they have a property in near Rock Hill, failed.

Then on March 2020, the US Department of Interior took 17 acres of land in Cleveland County into trust for the tribe in recognition of their ancestral ties to the region. At the start of this year, the Gov. Roy Cooper and the Catawba Nation agreed on a Class III gaming compact, which the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved a couple of months later.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who operate the two current casinos in North Carolina, filed a lawsuit to block the casino. However, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Catawba last April. The EBCI tribe has since filed an appeal.

Illinois Gaming Board OKs Construction of Temporary Rockford Casino

Hard Rock Atlantic City
The Illinois Gaming Board has approved the request of 815 Entertainment LLC to construct a temporary casino in Rockford at 610 N.Bell School Road.

It is the first of the six new casino locations approved in the state’s 2019 gambling expansion to be given the green light to begin construction.

In its letter of approval, Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Frutcher wrote:

“Based on a review of the materials applicant submitted in support of this request along with your representations, and pursuant to the authority delegated to me under the June 11, 2020, Board Resolution … request is hereby approved. Applicant may now commence construction at the temporary casino facility.”

An $8.8M Renovation Project on Former Giovanni’s Restaurant

The 37,790 square foot former Giovanni’s Restaurant and Convention Center will be converted into a temporary casino location. The $8.8M renovation project is expected to have 736 slot machines, two restaurants, and possibly include a “Rock Shop”.

Construction is expected to be completed in three months but before the temporary Rockford casino can operate, the owners must first obtain the Gaming Board’s permit to operate and receive approval of the casino’s security and surveillance plans.

The temporary Rockford casino could operate for two years while the permanent $311M Hard Rock Redford Casino is completed.

Permanent Casino Project Still Needs Further Approval

815 Entertainment’s Hard Rock Redford Casino project still has to secure further approval before construction can start at the former Clock Tower Resort at the entrance of Interstate 90 and East State Street.

The plan is to transform the iconic piece of property with historical significance into a Hard Rock brand by building a 65,000 square foot gaming location, a Hard Rock Cafe, and a 1,600-seat Hard Rock Live Venue. That project is estimated to provide 1,200 constructions jobs and up to 1,000 permanent jobs at the casino complex.

Hard Rock, which operates 240 venues in 69 different countries, including 12 casinos, is expected to bring in potential visitors well beyond the Illinois borders. The location of the permanent casino has tremendous access from Interstate 90 with nearly 70,000 cars passing daily.

Osage Nation Begins Construction of Casino Projects in Bartlesville and Pawhuska

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The Osage Nation broke ground Tuesday a new Osage Casino in Bartlesville and Pawhuska, projects that the tribe has been planning sine seven years ago.

Announced last year, the project will both relocate and expand the Osage Nation’s existing casinos in Pawhuska and outside Bartlesville in Osage County.

Per Osage Casinos CEO Byron Bighorse:

“We received approval for both applications last summer and immediately got to work on adjusting the scope of the properties to accommodate today’s construction costs. Demand in both markets continues to rise, and I am proud that we worked together as an enterprise to see this come to fruition.”

Expected to Open in the Fall of 2022

The two casino projects have been in the works for years. The Osage Nation applied with the United States Department of Interior to transfer the Bartlesville property to a federal trust for use in gaming in 2014, while an application for the Pawhuska property was filed two years later.

The transfers were approved last June and in April 2021, the tribe approved credit agreements for the construction of the two projects.

Both the Bartlesville and Pawhuska locations will have hotels, pools, spas, fitness areas, and a meeting space which are not in the current casino locations. While completion of the projects were delayed in the throughout the planning process, both are expected to open in the fall of 2022.

New Casino Locations

The New Bartlesville casino is located at a 125-acre property at 1803 US Highway 60, less than two miles west of downtown. It will have 57,400 square feet of gaming area with 500 slot machines. Currently, the existing Bartlesville casino has 42,000 square feet of gaming area and 44o video slots.

Meanwhile, the Pawhuska location is at a 60-acre plot at 1421 John Dahl Ave., across Oklahoma 60 from its current location. The new property will have a 40-room hotel, 3,675 square feet of meeting space, and 250 electronic games.

Both casinos were originally planned to be larger but with the current construction costs, the tribe decided to reduce their scope.

Resorts World Hudson Valley to Break Ground This Summer

Resorts World Las Vegas

The Newburgh Planning Board approved the plan to build the Resorts World Hudson Valley casino at Newburgh Mall one week after the town’s board enacted a zonal change which stood as the final approval for the project.

With the approval, the Hudson Valley casino is set to break ground this summer and could start operations by 2022.

In a written statement, Genting Americas Vice-President of Government Affairs and Public Relations Meghan Taylor said:

“We are extremely grateful for the ongoing support from the Town Council and the community as we move a step closer to building Resorts World Hudson Valley.”

“We look forward to breaking ground soon and delivering on our commitment to create good-paying union jobs for local residents, help revitalize the Newburgh Mall.”

Creating Jobs for Local Residents

Genting estimates that the Hudson Valley casino project will employ 200 people during the construction phase, which could take between six to 12 months depending on the shortage of building materials due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once completed, Resorts World says that the casino will employ 200 to 225 people full-time with 70% of those jobs filled by union employees. According to Taylor, they will be paying an estimated $15M in annual wages plus another $3M to the town of Newburgh via a Host Community Benefit agreement.

Revitalizing Newburgh Mall

The Hudson Valley casino is a $32M project that will renovate the former Bon-Ton department store at the Newburgh Mall to a 90,000 square feet electronic casino gaming area which is 44 miles from its sister property, the Resorts World Catskills in Sullivan City.

Resorts World Hudson Valley will bring a total of 1,300 video gaming machines plus a Bar360 lounge to the Mall, which is home to the latest Sears store in Hudson Valley but has struggled financially in recent years. The Hudson Valley casino is expected to bring in $160M in gross gaming revenue to the town.

Eastern Band of Cherokees to Appeal Federal Ruling that Allowed Construction of Catawba Casino

North Carolina Flag
The Eastern Bank of Cherokee Indiana made an appeal last Friday contesting a federal ruling that allowed the Rock Hill-based Catawba Indian Nation to build a North Carolina casino.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Principal Chief Richard Sneed said that the tribe continues to believe that the U.S. Department of Interior violated the law in approving the Catawba casino. According to Sneed, the appeal is just “the next step in the process to ensure that justice is done”.

The Catawbas have started constructing a temporary gaming facility on the site and it is expected to open this fall. Eventually, the $273M Two Kings Casino resort will be build in the property and it is expected to create 2,600 jobs and bring an estimated $308M in economic activity.

The Cherokees’ Argument

The Cherokee have argued that there is no precedent for the federal government to take land into trust that isn’t connected to and is located across the state lines from existing tribal lands. Meanwhile, both the Cherokee and Catawba claimed that the property in question is located one their ancestral lands and that the other tribe has no claim over it.

In its case to state and federal representatives, the Cherokee Bank of Indians also stated that the planned Catawba casino would strike a big blow to their thriving casino business. The Cherokees estimated that the new Catawba casino would lead to a potential revenue loss of $100M per year.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are a federally-recognized Indian tribe based in West North Carolina. They own the only other casinos permitted by the state, with both casinos located in the North Carolina Mountains.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino operates west of Asheville, near Maggie Valley which is three hours west of Charlotte. Meanwhile, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino is near Georgia and Tennessee and is a four-hour drive from Charlotte.

New Madera Casino Project to Break Ground Next Month

Casino Floor

The construction of the new Madera casino along Highway 99 in the Fresno Area is expected to break ground next month.

According to Red Rocks Chief Financial Officer Stephen Cootey in an investor conference call last week:

“We continue to expect to have a shovel in the ground in the second quarter of 2021 with the construction expected to take 15 to 18 months.”

Red Rocks Resort, the parent company of the Las Vegas-based Station Casinos is partnering with the North Folk Mono Indian Tribe on the project.

A $400M Casino Project

The casino will be built on 305 acres adjacent to the highway between Avenue 17 and Avenue 18 in Madera county. According to its plans, the new Madera casino project will have 213,000 square feet of gaming area with 2,000 slot machines, 40 table games, two restaurants, and a “food hall” concept. The project will cost between $350M-$450M to complete, excluding any financial costs.

The “off reservation” Madera casino project was first proposed in 2003 and approved the the federal government and then Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011. A 2011 lawsuit filed by another California tribe derailed the the project of the North Folk tribe. The case reached the state Supreme Court and last August, the Court ruled to allow the project to move forward.

State Supreme Court Approval

The Madera casino project had a long-standing lawsuit as casino opponents challenged the Governor’s authority to approve two “off reservation” gaming projects in Madera and Yuba, claiming that legislative authorization was required. After two appeals court disagreed on the case, the State Supreme Court heard the case in 2017. Last year, the state’s highest court decided that then Gov. Brown acted within his authority when he concurred the the Madera and Yuba country casino projects.

There are currently three gaming properties within short drives of Madera. These are the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, Table Mountain Casino, and the Club One Casino. Many local residents are in favor of the new Madera casino project not only because it would be beneficial to the economy but also because it would give the other casinos good competition.

Gun Lake Casino in Michigan Unveils $300M Expansion

Man With Spyglass and a Gun Lake Casino Image
The Gun Lake Tribe announced on Monday a $300M expansion plan that will transform its property in Wayland, Michigan to a resort casino.

Gun Lake Casino is set to add 250,000 square feet of gaming that will extend the property west toward US – 131. The project is expected to begin after its current project is expected to complete late this summer.

Said Gun Lake Tribe chairman Bob Peters in a statement:

“We are proud of the continued growth of Gun Lake Casino which is directly connected to the outstanding effort of our team members. The tribe remains steadfastly committed to reinvest in our collective future, for the benefit of tribal citizens, team members and the local community. This will provide even more employment opportunities and enhance Gun Lake Casino’s position as a tourism driver for western Michigan.”

Biggest Expansion Ever

The Gun Lake Casino has undergone several expansions since it opened in 2011. The current $100M expansion that kicked off in 2019 involves a 72,000 square foot area where 450 additional slot machines, 12 new table games, and a larger non-smoking area inside the casino. However, the planned $300M expansion will be its largest ever.

The $300M expansion is expected to include a 250 room hotel with luxury suites, dining options, and a full service spa. The casino is also planning to recreate its version of a year-round island oasis with a glass-domed pool. Guests will be able to rent private cabanas by the pool during the day. At night, the place will have a night life public entertainment space with DJs, live music, and dancing.

Contributions to the Economy

According to a report released by the Tribe last February, the Gun Lake Casino has contributed more than $2.8B for the economy of the Wolverine State since its opening on February 20, 2011. In that report, the tribe says that they have already inverted a total of $415M in the casino while directly pays $502M in employee wages.

Nearby towns and cities also benefit from the operation of the Gun Lake Casino through revenue sharing which totaled $35M in the past decade that it has operated. Last December, it distributed a total of $5.7M to state and local governments, despite shutting down for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.