Encore Boston opens Sunday, promising to upend Northeast gaming

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Everett, Mass. — So Las Vegas, in the form of Encore Boston Harbor, arrives here Sunday on the edge of Beantown, promising to upend Northeast gaming.

Some questions lingered, though, on the eve of the big day.

How efficiently will Wynn Resorts, owner of the $2.6 billion palace, be able to shuttle tens of thousands of visitors a day to and from the property? Without a major entertainment venue, how much of a threat will it pose to Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, the southeastern Connecticut stalwarts that rely on a steady stream of big-name performers to drive business?

Will Encore ever come close to achieving its gaming revenue projections, which have run as high as $800 million annually?

Wynn executives addressed such questions at a news conference Friday that followed media tours of the resort casino. Matt Maddox, Wynn’s chief executive officer, suggested Encore, “one of the first integrated resorts built in a major metropolitan area,” was something of an experiment.

“You don’t know everything you’ll need right away,” he said.

Wynn owns 11 acres of land adjacent to Encore and eventually could develop an “entertainment district” there, perhaps via partnerships with other entities, Maddox said.

In the meantime, Robert DeSalvio, the Encore president, said the new casino will host events in its 37,000-square-foot ballroom, where Earth, Wind & Fire, Paul Anka and a boxing match are scheduled. It also has promotional arrangements with such Boston-area venues as Fenway Park, TD Garden, Gillette Stadium and Wang Theatre.

“There are so many things for our guests to do,” DeSalvio said. “They can go out and explore the region.”

He also tackled transportation to and from Encore, saying, “We’re encouraging something different: Leave the car at home.”

The Encore garage’s relative paucity of parking spaces — just under 3,000 for a property that boasts a 671-room hotel and expects to welcome, on average, some 20,000 or more visitors a day — should provide people with the incentive to pursue other modes of transportation. Encore is running shuttle buses from “T” stops in Boston and surrounding towns and in neighboring communities, and has dedicated a parking lot from which ride-sharing services can operate. It commissioned Boston BoatWorks, a local yacht-builder, to fashion a mini-fleet of luxury water taxis.

Scott Smith, a Boston BoatWorks principal, said three of the vessels are ready, with a fourth due in August. They’ll operate all day, plying the Mystic River between Encore’s dock and Boston Harbor locations, each carrying 35 passengers on a 20-minute jaunt.

“We’re ready to build more,” Smith said.

While Encore is expected to divert business from MGM Springfield, Massachusetts’ first gambling resort, as well as Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and Rhode Island casinos, Maddox said its sights are set on a broader audience.

“We are in the business of tourism,” he said. “We’ll attract significant international tourism. People want to come to Boston.”

He declined to discuss Encore revenue projections, only saying that he expects its “nongaming assets” to do quite well. Most gaming analysts expect that a new casino, in its first year, will achieve 70 to 85 percent of the gaming revenue it achieves at maturity. By that measure, Encore would be expected to generate about $560 million in its first year. Massachusetts lawmakers have put the bar at $540 million.

The two resorts Wynn owns in Las Vegas generate substantially more nongaming revenue than gaming revenue. At its three resorts in Macau, China, the reverse is true. Maddox said he expects Encore Boston Harbor will operate somewhere in between the two extremes.

Encore’s nongaming assets include Memoire, a nightclub, and Mystique, an Asian restaurant, owned and operated by Big Night Entertainment, whose Foxwoods establishments include Shrine, Red Lantern, High Rollers and Scorpion Bar. Encore’s restaurant lineup also includes Rare, where the steaks are rubbed with $300-a-bottle olive oil, and Sinatra, operated in a partnership with the Sinatra family.

DeSalvio, who spent a decade at Foxwoods, leaving in 2006, said Encore is sure to take some customers from the Connecticut casinos.

“If they’re the rural model, we’re the urban model,” he said. “There’s a vitality to Boston, this integration into the community, that’s really exciting. In Connecticut, both facilities are very large scale, what they offer is very comprehensive. They get some customers from eastern Massachusetts that’ll be lost. But they can adjust — they’ve already done some things, they have the space.

“For all of us in this business, it’s about learning how to be competitive,” DeSalvio said. “I don’t have a big entertainment venue — not in this phase. We need to find out what works, what we need. We’ll see what happens.”

Encore is expected to have a greater impact on Foxwoods than Mohegan Sun because it’s closer to Foxwoods. Mohegan Sun, which is closer than Foxwoods is to MGM Springfield, was expected to be hurt more by the western Massachusetts casino, whose gaming revenues so far have fallen well short of projections.

Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who joined Encore executives Friday, attested to the impact the casino already has had on his city. Before Encore could be built, he said, Wynn had to spend $70 million to $80 million cleaning up after a Monsanto Chemical Co. plant that had left what amounted to a Superfund site. Wynn also built a park and hired hundreds of Everett residents to work at the casino, DeMaria said.

“We were always that gritty, industrial city — tough guys who play football,” he said, adding that Everett now will be known for much more.

Maddox said he’s most proud of the more than 5,000 workers who’ve been hired to work at Encore, a number expected to climb to 5,800, amounting to $300 million in annual payroll.

All but forgotten, it seemed, was the troubled run-up to Sunday’s opening, a period marked by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s review of Wynn’s gaming license following reports that Steve Wynn, the company’s namesake and former chairman, had sexually assaulted employees. The commission decided in April that Wynn could keep the license provided it pay a $35 million fine. An additional $500,000 fine was levied on Maddox for his failure to investigate an employee’s harassment complaint.

Less than a month ago, MGM Resorts and Wynn confirmed that they were in talks regarding a sale of Encore Boston. Within days, both sides said the talks were over.

“Encore Boston Harbor is not for sale,” Maddox said Friday.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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