Mass. Gaming Commission Says Encore Casino’s Blackjack Payouts Are Legal

The Encore's blackjack payouts were the subject of a lawsuit filed earlier this week.

Courtesy photo by Barbara Kraft

A lawsuit filed earlier this week alleged that the Encore casino’s blackjack payout system violates Massachusetts Gaming Commission law—but at a hearing today, the Commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau announced that the casino is operating perfectly legally, according to their preliminary review.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of New York resident A. Richard Schuster, alleged that the Encore was illegally paying out blackjack wins at 6-5 odds instead of the standard 3-2. If blackjack earnings are paid at that rate, the plaintiff claimed, the rules of the game must be adapted, which they were not at the Encore. The suit also accused the Encore of pocketing gamblers’ change when they pay out their winnings, as the ticket redemption machines only distribute whole dollars and no change.

According to a memo summarizing the IEB’s findings, the gambling licensee—in this case, the Encore—in fact does have the option to pay out of a standard game of blackjack at either 6-5 odds or 3-2, as long as the tables clearly display which payout option is being offered at the table. Photos included along with the memo indicate that the tables are indeed clearly labeled with the payout odds.

As far as the ticket redemption machines go, the IEB clarified that when someone redeems their ticket at a machine, they receive only the whole dollar amount and another redemption ticket for the value of the change, which they can then take to a cashier to claim their coins. The IEB found that this policy could have been better documented, so the Encore has since added labels outlining the policy to its redemption machines.

Additionally, any unclaimed cash at the Encore—that is, slot tickets that go unredeemed for a year—will be deposited into the Commonwealth’s Gaming Revenue Fund, not pumped back into the Encore itself, as the lawsuit alleged.

Joshua N. Garick, the attorney whose firm is representing Schuster, is deeply dissatisfied with both the way the IEB’s review was conducted and its findings. The intention behind filing this lawsuit, Garick said in an interview, was to have a hearing in a court of law in which his client could testify. He alleges that neither his firm nor his client were contacted before the meeting, and that they only found out that the IEB would present to the Commission less than 24 hours before the public meeting took place.

Garick’s next step will be to take the case before a judge. He believes that the 6-5 rule that the IEB cited does not in fact authorize the Encore’s form of blackjack gameplay. The rule, he says, is actually in reference to a separate part of the game entirely, and has been misinterpreted by the IEB during their “rushed investigation.”

“If the Commission’s goal is to ensure gaming in Massachusetts is conducted with integrity, we question why Encore representatives sat with the IEB investigators and participated in the presentation, while we were not contacted or invited to participate in any way,” a statement from the law firm reads. “We look forward to vigorously pursuing this lawsuit in an effort to restore fair and honest blackjack and slot play to the Encore casino.”

Representatives from the Commission declined to comment about why Garick and his client were not invited to participate in the investigation, and released the following statement:

“We understand that the lawsuit will proceed in the appropriate forum; however, the Commission’s responsibility was to determine regulatory compliance by Encore.”