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Encore Boston Harbor opens with a bang, thrills visitors

Updated June 23, 2019 - 6:38 pm

EVERETT, Mass. — Phil Satre was beaming Sunday afternoon as visitors jammed Encore Boston Harbor, because it reminded him of a different era.

“It’s an old-time gambling joint,” the chairman of Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s board of directors said of the scene on the casino floor, which is larger than those of Wynn and Encore in Las Vegas combined.

There’s nothing old about the slot technology that dazzled players on opening day of the company’s entry into New England.

It was the crowd, big and ready to play, that was “old-time.”

“I’m used to seeing half-empty casinos, so this is really great,” Satre said, referring to operations he has overseen in his lengthy industry career.

Wynn officials estimated that 5,000 people were still standing in line at noon, two hours after the resort opened. All had entered by 2:30 p.m., and guests continued to arrive throughout the day.

“We are very pleased with the attendance numbers and the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve received from guests,” a company spokesman said.

First customers

Most of the people in the crowd took an interest in the 3,158 slot machines, 143 table games and 88 poker tables at the $2.6 billion, 671-room resort.

Blackjack tables offered $25 and $50 minimums and $5,000 limits. Most of the other table games — craps, roulette, three-card poker and casino war — had $25 minimum bets and ceilings of $200, $500 or $5,000. Some blackjack tables paid 3-2, others 6-5. Roulette offered double-zero wheels.

A major difference between Boston Harbor and Las Vegas: no smoke. Smoking in the casino is prohibited by Massachusetts law.

Most players waited for about four hours to get in the doors, although the first person in the building who didn’t get a special invitation — Glenn Reynolds, of Quincy, Massachusetts — said he had camped out on the property’s artificial turf since 5 p.m. Saturday.

“Are you kidding? I saw this on television and wanted to see all the lovely things in Encore for myself,” said Reynolds, wearing a Boston Red Sox hat and carrying a sign reading “Encore GREAT!”

Reynolds was invited to meet Encore Boston Harbor President Robert DeSalvio and deliver the sign to him once he made his way through the door.

“I’ve been meeting a lot of people, and the staff here has been really great to us,” Reynolds said.

Indeed, employees delivered water and sandwiches to the crowd, which waited beneath clear skies in temperatures in the 70s. The crowd, which grew to at least 1,000 as the 10 a.m. opening neared, waited through speeches by DeSalvio, Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox, Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein and Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria.

The biggest cheers from the crowd came for DeMaria, who helped negotiate the Everett site with Wynn Resorts, and for Elaine Wynn, who was acknowledged in introductions.

The dignitaries were joined by four Encore employees to cut a long ribbon. Once a three-minute fireworks show that was louder than it was brilliant was concluded, guests poured into the resort, mostly to get to the 210,000-square-foot casino, although some of them found their way to the 15 restaurants and food-and-beverage outlets.

Some made a beeline to a ballroom to sign up for the company’s Red Card loyalty club.

Others made their way outside to the property’s South Lawn, where a DJ was spinning tunes while people lounged, listened to the music beneath a canopy of umbrellas or played cornhole.

While Wynn Resorts has endured controversy in the year-and-a-half leading up to Sunday’s opening, none of that seemed to matter to thousands of people scrambling to get inside the casino.

Maddox was fined $500,000 and the company was fined $35 million and for inadequately responding to allegations of sexual harassment against former Chairman and CEO Steve Wynn over several years. Steve Wynn has denied all harassment accusations, but he resigned in February 2018 and was fully divested from the company by April 2018. He wasn’t anywhere to be seen on the property Sunday.

Instead, visitors were more fascinated by the Preston Bailey-designed floral carousel with 83,000 flowers and 11,000 faux jewels near the entrance of the property and the $28.2 million, 2,000-pound mirrored stainless-steel Popeye statue created by artist Jeff Koons near the resort’s meetings and conventions area.

‘Spared no expense’

In an interview with the Review-Journal, Maddox said Sunday’s successful opening resulted from years of planning.

“On the 3 million square feet that we built here, we spared no expense,” Maddox said. “We spent over two years designing it. Our interiors team, our architecture team, everybody really thought about how can we take it to the next level. We wanted more natural light, more horticulture and to really make the water a part of the resort.”

Maddox said converting the waterfront was a huge challenge.

“If you had looked at this seven years ago, you would have laughed at ‘make the water a part of the resort,’ ” he said. “There were vacant buses and barges sticking up out of the Mystic River in the cove here, and it was literally so polluted that nothing could grow.”

While Satre was enthused about the initial response to the resort, he acknowledged that the true test will be customers’ long-term relationship with it.

Analysts have been disappointed that the MGM Springfield casino in Massachusetts has not lived up to prior projections and expectations.

Example for other markets

“I think the property turned out fabulous, and I think we’ve got a group of employees that this job is going to be special for them,” Satre said in an interview. “It’s been embraced by the state now. It’s been embraced by the community. It’s been embraced by the employees that are going to be here. And we’re waiting for the big question mark: Will the customers embrace us?”

As Maddox intimated at a Friday news conference, urban casinos in big cities could be part of the growth strategy for Wynn Resorts.

“I think in the future there will be cities not just in this country but all around the world that will look at this, and Japan is an example of this,” Maddox said. “They’re going to look at a more urban development. Macau was a clean slate, and Nevada has always been a clean slate. I was involved in the early development of Atlantic City. That was a redevelopment project, but it was already a tourist city, and this is not a tourist city.

“Boston, while it has a big tourist economy, it’s got a much broader economy. Cities that have a broader economy but want to diversify will look at this and say, ‘Can we do what Boston did?’ I think it’s a relevant consideration for those cities.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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