Encore Boston Harbor goes all in with state-of-the-art poker room

1 July 2019

Over the last two decades, Gary Hager has spent the majority of his life in poker rooms all over the world.

Professional player, dealer, poker room manager, from Las Vegas to Macau. You name it, the 38-year-old from Chicago native has been there, done that. So it's safe to say Hager knows full well what the key ingredients are to a successful poker room and what players that sit down in that room are seeking.

"At the end of the day, both the players and the business want the same thing," Hager said. "Everybody wants full tables, fair rules, competent dealers and a comfortable place to play.

"And above all," he added with a laugh, "poker players will sit on tree stumps and play on a folding table if the action is good."

Fortunately for Hager, Director of Poker at the brand new Encore Boston Harbor, and poker enthusiasts all over New England, there is much, much more than creaky wooden seats and a yard sale table for poker players at the lavish mega-resort that opened to rave reviews last week.

In fact, after dedicating more than 23,000 square feet of precious space overlooking the casino floor, Encore Boston Harbor is fully expecting its cutting-edge poker room to eventually become one of the busiest venues in the U.S.

After hearing about the grand plans for the new $2.6 billion resort in Boston, Hager, who has spent the last three and half years as poker room manager at Wynn Macau, jumped at the opportunity to come back to the states because he knew Encore Boston Harbor's room would mirror the quality of what is found at Wynn Resorts properties in Macau and Las Vegas.

"We always joke that someone must have made a mistake to give the poker room this sweet spot within the property," said Hager, who grinded as a poker pro from 1999 to 2006 before becoming a dealer at The Venetian Las Vegas and eventually taking over as tournament director at the renowned poker room at Wynn Las Vegas in 2011.

"The room is amazing. We're fortunate to work for a company that will put the necessary resources behind whatever we need to provide players with a world-class experience. Where other companies may cut back, our company spends more to deliver a better product."

To wit, the 88 poker tables — including a 16-table tournament room — at Encore Boston Harbor are the fifth-most of any casino in the world, according to Casino City data, trailing only Commerce Casino (200 tables), Hawaiian Gardens Casino (145) and The Bicycle Hotel & Casino (135) in California, and Foxwoods Resort Casino (94) in Connecticut. Every seat at every table has a personal USB charger and the room employs 285 dealers, about 200 of which moved from out of state. There are 35 65-inch televisions, and advance registration can be taken care of at PokerAtlas.com. In addition, there is a dedicated Poker Grille and restrooms exclusively for poker players, and soon, 460 safety deposit boxes will be made available to poker players.

There's also the more subtle items, such as thick glass custom dealer buttons, unique "all in" placards, high-quality chips and a shuffle machine at every table.

"Those kinds of things aren't cheap, and the players take notice," added Hager, who moved the Boston 13 months ago and has spent the last year preparing for the grand opening. "They make a huge difference."

Hager said the first week of action at the poker room was brisk. There were, of course, the expected grand opening bugs, but from a poker perspective, Hager said, "it feels like we've been up and running for months."

"It's only been a week, but each day is significantly better than the previous day," he said. "I couldn't be happier with the staff. Our veteran dealers are really doing a nice job of coaching up the rookie dealers. They've been taking them aside during breaks and on their own time and helping them, giving them pointers. We're not perfect yet, but we'll get there."

For now, only cash games are available, but there are a variety of games being dealt, including variants of Hold'em, Omaha, Seven Card Stud, and Five Card Draw. Games such as Badugi, Triple Draw and Deuce to Seven are expected to be made available soon, and right now an example of the limits run from anywhere from $1/$3 Hold'em to $150/$300 Omaha Eight or Better.

Director of Poker Gary Hager expects Encore Boston Harbor to have one of the highest volume poker rooms in the country when the new space is fully up and running.

Director of Poker Gary Hager expects Encore Boston Harbor to have one of the highest volume poker rooms in the country when the new space is fully up and running. (photo by Roger Davies)

Since the opening, Hager has received a ton of requests for daily tournaments, and said the room will be able to fulfill that demand, hopefully beginning in September.

"At that point we'll know what our business levels are, what kind of additional staff and space we'll need, and what the right buy-ins and chip stacks will be," he explained. "If we tried (to offer tournaments) right from the beginning, we wouldn't have been able to provide the quality tournament-like conditions that players are used to at other Wynn properties."

When the tournaments do launch, players can expect a schedule similar to what is offered at Wynn Las Vegas, with a daily schedule, signature weekends, senior events and tournament series.

"Once we are fully up and running, this will be one of the highest volume poker rooms in the country," Hager said. "Our other poker rooms may not necessarily be the biggest or busiest, but for a regular person who's not a nosebleed player, the features are the best. We fully plan to mimic that philosophy at Encore Boston Harbor."

Related Links
Wynn Resorts Gaming Vendor Information
Wynn Macau Details
Encore Boston Harbor Details
Foxwoods Resort Casino Details
The Bicycle Hotel & Casino Details
The Venetian Las Vegas Details
Commerce Casino Details
The Gardens Casino Details
Ranked Online Poker Rooms

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