MGM Springfield implementing new policies to prevent minors from gambling

MGM Springfield implementing new policies to prevent minors from gambling

Springfields new MGM casino shows a veteran card counter the door

BOSTON (SHNS) – The volume of people who have visited MGM Springfield since it opened three weeks ago has well exceeded the gaming company's estimates, but casino executives told gaming regulators Thursday they are running into an issue with minors on the gaming floor.

Michael Mathis, president and CEO of MGM Springfield, told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that the resort casino is attracting about 50,000 visitors on weekend days and about 25,000 visitors on weekdays — well above the company's estimate of between 15,000 and 20,000 guests per day.

“We definitely still have some folks that are getting onto the floor that are underage. Were stopping them and were trying to increase our communication around that,” Mathis told the commission. He added, “Weve got some parents that are choosing to leave their children in different parts of the resort while they game and weve identified that issue and it is a big problem for us and it is a big problem for the experience.”

"We expect some of those numbers to normalize but there is no question that there is tremendous interest in our resort," he said. "I think it's largely because of the nature of the resort, which is a very mixed-use, downtown, porous design."

Mathis also detailed the casinos opening weekend for the commission. He said 150,000 people visited the property during its first three days of operations with 65,000 of them visiting on opening day or night. The casino opened with a parade down Main Street and Mathis said people lined up in the wee hours of the morning in anticipation.

Mom of MGM assault suspect: incident could have been avoided

But that porous design — which includes an open-air plaza, retail shopping center, a soon-to-open movie theater and restaurants in addition to the gaming area — has also led to a problem with people under the legal gambling age of 21 accessing the gaming floor.

“Any estimate of underage access to the facility or underage gaming is unacceptable, but given the volumes that were managing and the porous nature of this resort — which I think we all understood was an opportunity but would create challenges — were really working very hard to get ahead of that issue,” Mathis said.

"We definitely still have some folks that are getting onto the floor that are underage. We're stopping them and we're trying to increase our communication around that," Mathis told the commission. He added, "We've got some parents that are choosing to leave their children in different parts of the resort while they game and we've identified that issue and it is a big problem for us and it is a big problem for the experience."

Michael Mathis, president and chief operations officer of MGM Springfield, told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that the resort casino is attracting about 50,000 visitors on weekend days and about 25,000 visitors on weekdays — well above the companys estimate of between 15,000 and 20,000 guests per day.

To combat the problem, Mathis said MGM has implemented a ban on unattended minors and considers anyone under the age of 16 to be an unattended minor. The casino has also put in place a curfew of midnight. After that time, only people 21 or older or MGM hotel guests will be allowed in the facility, he said.

To combat the problem, Mathis said MGM has implemented a ban on unattended minors and considers anyone under the age of 16 to be an unattended minor. The casino has also put in place a curfew of midnight. After that time, only people 21 or older or MGM hotel guests will be allowed in the facility, he said.

"Any estimate of underage access to the facility or underage gaming is unacceptable, but given the volumes that we're managing and the porous nature of this resort — which I think we all understood was an opportunity but would create challenges — we're really working very hard to get ahead of that issue," Mathis said.

Seth Stratton, vice president and general counsel of MGM Springfield, said some underage gaming was intentional but some was "inadvertent" due to a lack of "knowledge in the community with a new gaming facility around the 21 years of age."

“We definitely had some lines and we had some folks that we actually had to send away Friday at about 2 a.m. It was a bit surreal,” he said. “We had about three, four thousand folks lined up on Main Street at 2-2:30 a.m., bumper-to-bumper traffic and it felt like we were out in Times Square.”

Commissioner Bruce Stebbins, who oversaw MGM Springfield's two test nights before the casino officially opened, agreed that some of the problem "can be attributed to the newness factor of the facility as well as the kind of long-awaited excitement of MGM's opening."

Commissioner Chairman Steven Crosby acknowledged that the commission had directed MGM to design a casino that would incorporate a wide array of non-gaming activities and one that would be welcoming to people who do not want to gamble. He said the problem "is, in part, due to what we asked you to do."

Mathis also detailed the casino's opening weekend for the commission. He said 150,000 people visited the property during its first three days of operations with 65,000 of them visiting on opening day or night. The casino opened with a parade down Main Street and Mathis said people lined up in the wee hours of the morning in anticipation.

"We definitely had some lines and we had some folks that we actually had to send away Friday at about 2 a.m. It was a bit surreal," he said. "We had about three, four thousand folks lined up on Main Street at 2-2:30 a.m., bumper-to-bumper traffic and it felt like we were out in Times Square."

“We expect some of those numbers to normalize but there is no question that there is tremendous interest in our resort,” he said. “I think its largely because of the nature of the resort, which is a very mixed-use, downtown, porous design.”

The retail section of the casino, especially its South End Market, has surpassed its visitor estimates by two or three times — MGM was expecting 1,800 people per day and Mathis said it has already hit the 4,000 people mark.

Seth Stratton, vice president and general counsel of MGM Springfield, said some underage gaming was intentional but some was “inadvertent” due to a lack of “knowledge in the community with a new gaming facility around the 21 years of age.”

During the opening three-day weekend, MGM served 4,500 hamburgers, about 1,200 pounds of lobster and visitors poured 9,500 gallons of soda from the casino's complimentary self-serve soda station, Mathis said.

The retail section of the casino, especially its South End Market, has surpassed its visitor estimates by two or three times — MGM was expecting 1,800 people per day and Mathis said it has already hit the 4,000 people mark.

The casino president and COO said revenues for MGM Springfield have been strong for the first three weeks. A more detailed accounting of the casino's revenues for August — and the first official indication of what a full-scale casino will mean for state coffers — will be released by the Gaming Commission on Monday.

During the opening three-day weekend, MGM served 4,500 hamburgers, about 1,200 pounds of lobster and visitors poured 9,500 gallons of soda from the casinos complimentary self-serve soda station, Mathis said.

The most powerful weather app in western Mass. with personal forecasts, alerts, and radar from the 22News Storm Team.

Hyland, a professional blackjack player who travels the country and uses card-counting strategies to improve his chances of winning, says he was kicked out of MGM Springfield earlier this week, and unceremoniously escorted off the property.

Though card-counting is not illegal, casino companies hate it and will refuse to let what they call “advantage players” place bets. (For his part, Hyland prefers the term “skilled player.”)

MGM Springfield’s president, Mike Mathis, declined to say just how the casino recognizes card counters, but confirmed the casino has confronted “a handful” of them since opening Aug. 24. As the first licensed resort casino in Massachusetts, MGM Springfield offers the first live table games, such as blackjack.

“Bottom line, it is permissible under state law, under our regulations, because we’re private property, to [remove] anyone we identify as an advantage, card-counting player,” Mathis said Thursday. The practice of removing card counters “is generally accepted through most jurisdictions, because those individual are also taking revenue out of the state’s hands.”

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission, through a spokesman, confirmed that “ultimately, the decision to remove a patron is under the purview of MGM management.”

Card counting was the technique employed by the famed MIT Blackjack Team, which inspired the 2008 movie “21.”

Among top-echelon blackjack players, Hyland, 62, of New Jersey, is well-known. He has been playing the game professionally most of his life.

“I’ve had some tremendous wins and devastating losses,” Hyland said. “Overall, I’ve done well enough to make a living at it.” As an occupation, he likes gambling for the independence it offers and the mental challenge it provides.

Of course, in a game that involves luck as well as skill, even the best players lose money sometimes. Hyland said he has made two trips to MGM Springfield and finished down about $3,000. (The state’s cut will be $750.)

To put it simply, card counters keep track of the cards that have been dealt onto the blackjack table. From what has been dealt, they deduce what cards have not yet been played.

If lots of high cards are still available, the upcoming hands favor the player. You might want to increase your wager.

There are different techniques to keep track of the cards. For example, a card counter may maintain a running mental number, adding or subtracting as each card is dealt. When that number hits certain benchmarks, the player knows whether the odds are in his or her favor.

In addition to banning players, casinos will attempt to frustrate card-counters by shuffling the deck more often to ruin the count.

Hyland freely admits he has been thrown out of other MGM properties, and he is sure they have his photograph in a file of skilled players, shared among all of the company’s casinos. The casinos also hire people who understand card counting to work in security and be on the lookout for players who are using such techniques, he said.

Sometimes, he said, casino employees who recognize him will wave him off as soon as they spot him, saying, “C’mon, Tommy, you know we can’t let you play here.’ ”

“They act like there’s something underhanded about it,” he said. “I’m just using math and memory.”


Posted in Springfield