What seemed to be a slow trot towards socially approving gambling in New England has changed to a sprint, with no finish line in sight. Expansion continues, with the word “saturation” thrown around annually. While we don’t know what the future holds concerning sports betting, casinos in Bridgeport, CT., East Windsor, CT., and southeastern Massachusetts, and the future competition in southern New England, we can look back to see how we got here.
My interest in gambling history began with playing card games – playing cribbage and Michigan Rummy while in elementary school. With visits to Hartford Jai-Alai and Plainfield Greyhound Racetrack during my twenties, visits to the Sands in Atlantic City and Foxwoods Bingo in my thirties, and the Connecticut expansion in the 1990’s, I was hooked.
“Roll the Bones” by Dr. David Schwartz
One of my favorite books is “Roll the Bones” by Dr. David Schwartz. In his book, Dr. Dave explains that “….the human predilection for a wager shaped human history from the Ice Age to the Information Age. People spend nearly one trillion dollars worldwide on gambling a year–wouldn’t you like to learn a little about how we got there?” The fact is, I did!.
New England played a big part in the assertion of gambling in America. According to the California State Library, English settlers differed from their Puritanical neighbors in New England in many ways, but one influenced the early colonies to continue traditional styles of living in a new world , which included gambling, considering as a “harmless diversion, a popular and accepted activity.” Lotteries were used to bail out the Early Colonies when financial backers of the colonies began to see gambling as the solution to diminishing finances needed for the war effort. All 13 original colonies established lotteries, usually more than one, to raise revenue. Lotteries continue to be a main source of revenue for all six New England states.
Once Upon a time….
The Pequot War of 1637 set the stage for the separation of Pequot & Mohegan Tribes. Over 350 years after, both tribes started the New England Casino expansion we see today.
The Pequot and Mohegan Tribes were once one tribe, but war with colonists, differences with other tribes, and different tribal and colonial alliances caused a split that continues to this day. Over 250 years later, a bingo hall in 1985 began the history of gaming in New England.
I should mention that casino gambling found a home in the 1800’s in Newport, Rhode Island, not to mention the numerous greyhound & horse tracks, parimutuel parlors, and Jai alai frontons in Milford & Hartford CT, and Newport, RI. However, in the past ten years, the horse-racing industry has seen a major decrease in raceway operations, Jai-Alai has moved out of the state, and parimutuel parlors continue to diminish in popularity, which may change with more legal sports betting in all six states
I you enjoy my look back at the journey of legalized gambling in New England below.
The New England Casino Historical Dateline:
Foxwoods Started it all with Bingo. This picture is the expanded Bingo Hall before Casino Expansion in 1992.
The first New England Casino as Foxwoods opens its doors in Mashantucket, CT
The Rainmaker at Foxwoods Resort Casino – part of the original casino before many expansions.
Rhode Island approves VLT gaming machines (classII) at Lincoln Greyhound Park & Newport Jai Alai
The Mohegan Tribe opens the second NE casino in Uncasville, CT
A Dollar Coin from Mohegan Sun Opening
Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway opens in Bangor, Maine
Hollywood Casino, Bangor Maine
Lincoln Greyhound Park turns into Twin River Casino with class III gaming; Newport Grand soon follows, redesigning without Jai-Alai
Twin River as Lincoln Park before Major Expansion
MGM joins Foxwoods with additional hotel / casino
MGM Tower at Foxwoods – Right side.
MA legislature approves Expanded Gaming Act allowing construction of 3 Resort casinos & one “slot’s only casino”
Oxford Casino opens in Oxford, Maine
Oxford Casino, Maine
MGM pulls out of it’s Foxwoods partnership
MGM Ends Agreement with Foxwoods
Plainridge Park Casino Opens at Plainridge Raceway as the first Massachusetts casino (slots-only)
Plainridge Park Casino in Massachusetts
A Big Year for Gambling, Casinos and Hotels in New England:
Oxford Casino, Oxford ME, adds Hotel, expanded casino and Ox Pu
Oxford Hotel & Casino
MGM Springfield Resort Casino opens
Newport Grand Slots Casino closes
Newport Grand Slots, Newport, RI
Tiverton Casino & Hotel opens
Tiverton Casino/ Hotel.
Twin River Casino adds Hotel
Twin River Hotel Lobby
Mohegan Sun opens Earth Expo Center
Mohegan Expo Center
Rhode Island approves and opens the first Sports Betting in New England
Opening day of Phase I Sports Book at Twin River Casino
Encore Boston Harbor to open in the fall
Encore Boston Harbor rendition, courtesy of Encore Boston Harbor pressroom
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This past week, I was saddened to hear Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are taking the plunge into lowering BlackJack pay-tables from 3:2 to 6:5 for a blackjack. With increased competition in table games from Twin Rivers & Tiverton Casinos, MGM Springfield and the upcoming Encore Boston Harbor, I thought keeping all of their blackjack tables with a 3:2 payout would be wise – setting them apart for recreational blackjack players and AP’s (Advantage Players) alike. I guess that assumption was wrong. I guess they believe that lowering the bar to all the other casinos will save them money and the gaming public is too stupid to think it matters. Maybe their right.
Other important considerations in blackjack such as penetration, the number of decks in the shoe, and dealer rules will be in future posts. If you are new to the intricacies of blackjack rules, try our related posts below:
Competition among casinos has always been thought to be good for the consumer. According to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), “Competition in America is about price, selection, and service. It benefits consumers by keeping prices low and the quality and choice of goods and services high.”
Translated to casino terms, competition should:
keep prices low – such as dining, hotel expenses, show prices, amenities, parking
keep the quality and choice of goods and services high – good gambling rules, great casino service on casino floor, good hotel service and rooms that are well kept and enjoyable to stay, dining and drink quality high
But what if EVERYBODY raises prices and cuts back on the quality of the casino experience? Then, there IS NO competition – just a joint greed to rake their patrons over the coals – nickel and diming them much like the airlines have done over the years.
Sure, there are cost of living and inflation changes that come along that are expected. Casinos do compete with little pockets of offers such as rewards clubs tier matching, kiosk swipes and promotions to get you through their casino door. But compared to the negatives – paid parking, resort fees, raising the house edge on gaming rules and payout tables – competition doesn’t seem to be a friend of the gambling consumer.
Black Jack Changes
Which brings me to today’s post – good gaming rules continue to be compromised. It seems casino bean-counters don’t believe the mantra from the gambling masses – “Give us good rules and we will gamble.” So, to my dismay, when I started to hear the erosion of blackjack rules locally, I just couldn’t understand it….. but alas, it’s true.
Foxwoods recently added more tables in their Fox Casino, only to offer $10 black jack exclusively with 6:5 BJ payout, to accompany another terrible payout with it’s $1 6:5 BJ, with $.25 commission per hand. Cedars and Grand Pequot casino offers both. $25 is the cutoff to get 3:2 Blackjack. The Stadium Blackjack is 6:5 also. Rumors of even money coming to electronic blackjack has already showed its ugly face in New England on many video poker machines.
Mohegan Sun raised the minimum limit tables to $10 some time ago – no $5 BJ tables anymore. Much like Foxwoods, they have taken out slots to add more table games and especially blackjack tables with 6:5 payout.
MGM Springfield opened with the same 6:5 Blackjack tables at lower denominations of $10 & $15, with the $25 tables offering 3:2. On the Vegas Strip, MGM is one of many casinos that have put good table games rules on the endangered species list, along with casino “fun books,” free parking and keno.
6:5 Black Jack and House Edge
You get a BlackJack around 1 in 21 hands. So does the dealer. So around 5% of the time, you will be paid $3 less on a $10 bet. So around 15 cents per hand, or 1.5%. Under the proposed changes to 6:5 payouts, the House Edge will be 2.019% vs. the current 0.35% – a pretty big jump in edge from 3:2 to 6:5.
1.5%-2% is still pretty decent odds for a table game, considering the house edge in roulette and carnival games the likes of Caribbean Stud & Let It Ride. For a non-counting average player it’s probably not noticeable. But it certainly screws over Advantage Player’s, especially with other poor rules as mid penetration, no surrender, and dealer hitting on soft 17. Obviously these differences get magnified over the long term, as serious bettors make thousands of wagers over time.
Is this what casinos are counting on to weed out the counters, and keep the recreational gambler and newbie.? The thing that casinos don’t get is that they will not make more money! The same amount of people will lose the same amount of money, just faster. And AP’s won’t bother with anything below $25 games anyway.
Here’s an very simplistic example. Newbie Norm knows basic strategy and plays for recreation. His usual bankroll is $200 which usually lasts 3 hours. With the simple change to 6:5 games, his bankroll now only lasts 2.5 hours. Eventually, he finds his money doesn’t last as long and stops visiting all together. How can changing to 6:5 at lower denominations make a difference at the $5, $10, and $15 level?
No Judgement here – play what you want But Vote with Your Wallet
If you want to maximize your odds of having a good turn at the blackjack table, be on the lookout for 3:2 tables. Spread the word to friends and family, educate them on the difference. Let them know they have a voice and a vote with every dollar they wager. Let casino staff and dealers know why you play less at that particular casino. Better yet, switch your loyalty to a casino that has preferable rules to you . It’s your choice – no judgement here. Just be an informed consumer before you decide to spend your money wherever you want. You might be surprised how much longer your session will last and how much more fun playing blackjack can be as a recreational gambler.
It was a cold, but sunny and beautiful day for a drive – to MGM Springfieldfor Multiplier Day! Multiplier Days are a favorite time to gamble for those of us at NETG. As low to mid-roller recreational gamblers, we try to get the biggest bang in the quickest and most enjoyable way possible. Bert & I both had tier-matched up to Platinum at MGM Springfield. For some players, a higher tier seems like a meaningless quest, but not us. Let me tell you why.
There are little perks to higher tiers that a low to mid roller will never experience. One of the biggest is line passes. If you ever go to a rewards desk, a buffet or hotel check-in when its crowded, don’t anyone tell me a line pass for higher tier cards isn’t important! Some casino rewards include multipliers for your play, and for Platinum, Bonus on Points Earned Playing Slots at M life Rewards Destinations Nationwide is 30% at the platinum. Play slots, earn 30% more points, as compared to 10% at Pearl, or none at lowest level Sapphire. Same thing for Bonus on Express Comps – points for dining, merchandise, etc., Earned at M life Rewards Destinations Nationwide. Platinum also gets free Valet parking at MGM Springfield. After the number of times we have visited using Valet Parking, I saved over $200 – half of a day’s bankroll for us.
Tier Matching is worth the effort whether in New England, Atlantic City or elsewhere. But be careful to give them some play as well. Work with the hosts, even if you don’t have a “personal host,” and see what else a higher tier brings. Remember, if you don’t inquire about the availability of comps, you wont get them. Ask – the worse that can happen is the politely say “no.”
Now to our Trip Report at MGM Springfield.
TAP at MGM Springfield
TAP is very spacious restaurant and bar. They have changed the process of having to wait in line for a seat at the bar – a great thing, because instead of waiting 20 more minutes, we were able to get a seat at the bar. Unfortunately, we were met by an overworked, stressed out bartender who greeted us with and explanation on how we would have to wait due to low staffing. How about that MGM hospitality we often here abut and at least greeting us with a “hello, how are you?” before hearing that. We could see how hard he was working and wasn’t into stressing him out more than he was. We were able to assure him we weren’t in a rush, which he appreciated.
The food was good – moist pulled park with fries (I had coleslaw as a substitution.) Considering how busy it was, our food arrived quickly. Within 40 minutes we were out to the casino to do battle. But first, a brief stop at the kiosks.
I think the Kiosk problems are getting better, although at bust times, lines can be horrendous. The kiosks are now all centralized in the area the Games Sense room on the casino floor. Walk out the parking entrances, past TAP, and you will see them. Basically, all kiosks are consolidated to this one area. “Disney” lines are roped off. BUT (here is our recurring theme) there is a special line for Platinum & Noir – much like pass liners at the MLife Rewards Desk, and Cashier.
Suggestion – before gambling any day, but especially on multiplier days, take a screen shot of your MLife mobile app showing your account points. This can be used to compare your earnings at the end of your session.
Art in the Game
From Left to right – Mike Tyburski, Chris Marion, Binbin, and Chris Dimauro
Another reason for driving to Springfield was to meet up with Chris DiMauro, of Art In The Game – a podcast and closed Facebook group that discusses gaming at MGM Springfield and all that the City of Springfield has to offer, including economic developments as well as dining & entertainment events around downtown. Chris D. has put in a lot of time to spotlight Springfield and it’s new tenant MGM. If visiting MGM Springfield for the first time, ask to join the Facebook group and listen to his podcast (you might find an NETG guest appearance!) We had a blast at the walk-up bar, playing video poker, getting great service from Teresa (Chris calls her the best bartender in the place) and then enjoying a meal and drinks at TAP. A fun afternoon before the gambling which was about to take place.
Back to our point about how Tier Matching counts. Slots have a high house advantage – anywhere between 85 – 90% on penny slots. One way we are able to raise the percentage is what is worth, which bring a higher tier in consideration. This Multiplier promotion gave a higher multiplier to your earned points according to your tier. Sapphire – 2X, Pearl – 3X, Gold – 4X, and Platinum / Noir – 5X. Our six hours, a 5X multiplier adds up!
It was also WinningWINSdays – a chance at winning FREEPLAYevery 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. All guests actively playing at a slot machine is entered to win, with someone winning every 30 minutes. I’d like report how winning works, but unfortunately the names Bert or Binbin were not called.
Inside MGM casino
Sorry table game players – not much of a report here for you. Same news – no All Tall/All Small at craps tables ($10 minimum lowest), and 6:5 blackjack rules on $10 & $15 tables.
However, slot play was favorable – at least for one of us. I left with $100 more than I came with, and included over 6 hours of slot play. Not bad. While the slot inventory is good, there seems to be an overabundance of some and a lack of other possible brands. But, overall, it has something for every slot player.
At one point, I was up enough to try Triple Triple Bonus video poker. This game defines volatility. Two-pair = 1 credit, three-of-a-king = only 2 credits, and a straight only = 3 credits! The full house/flush ratio is 7/5. This game is listed on VP2Free as a 96.55% game. The big tease about TTB is the quad bonus – the payout for Four of a kind, Aces w/ 2,3,4 & Four of a kind, 2, 3 ,4 w/ Ace equals 4000 credits just like a Royal Flush. Enticing? Make sure you have an extensive bankroll to survive it’s volatility.
Video Poker at MGM Springfield has been my biggest gaming complaint. At the quarter level, it’s hard to find anything over 96%. Remember, that includes trying max bet for the Royal Flush. Without max bet, payback is lowered 2%, that would be nothing at MGMS over 94% without max bet. VP players – be aware of your paytables. Some players play less than Max bet and play a higher denomination. Thanks to Mike Tyburski for showing me that Bonus Poker at the dollar level is a 7/5 game – a 98% game. Without the 5 coin max, it reduces to 96%, but without the high volatility and 2:1 for two pair.
BEVERAGE SERVICE IS STILL TERRIBLE
For a second straight session, both my wife and I had terrible beverage service on the casino floor. It hasn’t improved for me over five visits. It just seems completely understaffed. The wait-time, if you are lucky enough to order, is so long for slot players that most people have moved on to another slot. Table games are no better. One time playing Pai Gow poker, I had to ask the dealer to ask the pit boss if someone could be sent over! Hey MGM, it’s one thing to offer free beverages – it’s another to actually serve them!
I am still asking to get an upgrade for a suite, just so I can take pictures for all of you reading this. It was a very busy week, with New Year’s Eve on the horizon. The standard rooms are still pretty comfy. One little plus is that the window curtains keep the room dark for you late sleepers. Two little bottles of water are a nice touch, and the rooms are still clean and interesting. My only complaint is that the shower doors still make me feel like I’m in a jail cell – but that’s probably just me. One additional nice touch is the motion sensitive blue light in the bathroom for those “during the night wake-ups” – just a little light provided to “get ‘er done.”
I strongly suggest you ask for the 2nd floor. The ceilings are higher in the rooms, giving a more spacious feeling, and it’s the same floor as the Coffee & Tea Room. There is only one of these, so all other floors visit the 2nd floor as well. Lines formed this Thursday morning, but its easier to watch if your a few rooms down. And it’s next to the other casino elevator that brings you down across from the “Walk Up Bar.”
Suggestion – to remember your room # and not worry about your room key, the MLife mobile app has all your information if you are staying in the hotel. AND, it includes your room key – how cool is that. Just call up your app, get your room key, hold it to your room door at the key spot and Voila! – your in your room.
I am still enjoying MGM Springfield more than I thought. But my best offers and gambling options still come from Connecticut. In a future post, I will tell you why I still prefer Mohegan Sun & Foxwoods. But for now, I’m surprising pleased with the overall impression of MGM Springfield.
Remember when gambling – “Embrace the Math, Not the Myth!”