State regulators on Thursday cleared the Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield casinos to reintroduce roulette games for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the state’s gambling industry in March.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission decision comes nearly three months into the limited reopening of the casinos, which are trying to rebuild their businesses during a devastating year for the hospitality industry. The commission still has not cleared the facilities to allow tournament poker or craps.
The move comes as the casinos’ host communities of Everett and Springfield have become some of the state’s highest-risk areas for the coronavirus. That designation is shared by Boston and several other municipalities, some of which have scaled back their reopening plans and delayed in-person school.
The commission determined that it would be safe to add roulette to the casinos’ slate of games, which already include slots, blackjack, and smaller-scale poker games.
The regulatory approval comes with several precautions, however, including a maximum of three roulette players per table and the use of plexiglass to separate patrons and dealers. The commission also made clear that the casinos are not allowed to increase their overall capacity, which has been drastically reduced under reopening rules.
Commission staff noted during the meeting that casinos in surrounding states are already offering roulette. And commissioners said the casinos have shown since reopening that they are able to guard against the spread of the virus.
They also said they were cognizant of the economics in the industry, and hopeful that more gaming options would help casinos rehire some of the people who have lost their jobs this year. The commission had declined a previous request to expand table games during the pandemic.
“They are working hard to comply with the rules and are doing a good job of that, and I think the numbers of cases within a casino reflect that. They are minimal here in our jurisdiction. That’s not the case everywhere,” said commission member Gayle Cameron.
The commission approved the measure by a vote of 5 to 0.
In a statement, Encore spokesman Eric Kraus said casino management was pleased by the decision.
“To ensure the safety of our guests and employees, we will continue to implement extensive health and disinfection procedures at roulette tables that are similar to protocols in place at our other table games,” he said.