Massachusetts Gaming Commission Blackjack Error Led to Lawsuit Against Encore Boston Harbor

Posted on: July 19, 2019, 06:33h. 

Last updated on: July 19, 2019, 06:33h.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has said a preliminary investigation into the Encore Boston Harbor’s blackjack games suggest the casino is fully compliant with regulations and there is no evidence it has been cheating its customers.

Encore Boston Harbor
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission said Thursday that standard blackjack at 6/5 odds is legal in in the state, so why do its own rules appear to contradict that? (KM Cannon/LVRJ)

The regulator’s statement follows a class-action lawsuit, filed Monday, that accuses the new $2.6 billion Wynn Resorts property of offering blackjack at 6/5 odds, which it claims is a violation of state gaming law.

But could this be the MGC’s fault?

Encore Boston Harbor currently offers both 6/5 blackjack and the more customer-friendly 3/2 version, with the odds clearly displayed on the tables.

Assuming an average bet of $50 per hand and 80 hands per hour, a customer could be expected to lose $35.60 per hour more playing 6/5 than 3/2, the lawsuit notes.

“The math is even more disturbing when you multiply this average expected loss by five players per table, by 20 tables offering the crooked Blackjack game at any given time, and by 24 hours the casino is open each day,” it asserts. “This means Encore is stealing $85,440.00 from its customers each day, or well in excess of $30 million each year.”

Playing by the Rules?

That would be a big deal if 6/5 blackjack were illegal in Massachusetts — as it is in Pennsylvania, for example — but the MGC says it isn’t.

On Thursday, gaming a division chief assistant director Bruce Band said the confusion may have arisen from the use of the terms 6/5 in two different contexts in the state’s blackjack rules.

Band said there is “standard blackjack,” which can be either 3/2 or 6/5 and, there is a blackjack variant that the MGC regulations refer to as “the 6 to 5 variation” which has slightly different rules and has never been offered at the Encore Boston Harbor.

But this is where it gets strange. The MGC blackjack rules state:

“All winning wagers … shall be paid at odds of 1 to 1 with the exception of standard blackjack which shall be paid at odds of 3 to 2, or at odds of 6 to 5 for the 6 to 5 blackjack variation.”

Was That a Typo?

Has the MGC made an error? Did it mean to say “…with the exception of standard blackjack which shall be paid at odds of 3 to 2 or at odds of 6 to 5, and 6 to 5 for the 6 to 5 blackjack variation?”

All mentions of “6/5” in the rules — at least the ones on the MGC website viewed by — explicitly refer to the “6 to 5 variation,” except once, where it says:

“If the licensee chooses the option to pay a blackjack at odd [sic] of 6 to 5 and doesn’t use the 6 to 5 variation then Section 7(c) is void.”

So standard blackjack at 6/5 odds is only mentioned in the rules once, albeit indirectly, while they explicitly state that standard blackjack should be paid at 3/2.    

It’s a pretty costly mistake – but only for Massachusetts blackjack players.

In general, 6/5 blackjack increases the house edge by roughly 400 percent. A player employing perfect strategy at 6/5 will have an expected return of around 98 percent, while with 3/2 it’s in the 99.5 percent range.

Additionally, the lawsuit also alleges that Encore failed to refund slot credits in full at ticket redemption machines, rounding down the dollar amount. Both the Encore and the MGC have denied this claim.