After years of public hearings, legal battles, construction and other challenges, the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett is set to open its doors on Sunday. WGBH News' Craig LeMoult was at the casino on Friday and spoke with WGBH's All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about what’s expected for opening weekend.
Barbara Howard: So what are your initial impressions? I know you were given a tour.
Craig LeMoult: Yeah, it is enormous. And while there is a casino here — and a big one at that — it does actually feel like there's a lot more to it than that. There are restaurants, and nightclubs, and bars and retail shops. There's a hotel, and outdoor space as well. You know, I covered the opening of the slots parlor in Plainville and the MGM Resorts casino in Springfield. This really feels much more like a destination resort. That's what their goal was.
Howard: OK, let's start with the casino. What's it like?
LeMoult: That's a huge space. The gaming floor is about 210,000 square feet, with more than 3,000 slot machines. That area has a two-story ceiling, so it actually feels pretty open, not too claustrophobic. And those machines are not beeping now — that’s one thing I can't tell you, is what it's going to sound like, how loud it's actually going to be. It's all pretty quiet today. The slots are surrounded by 140 gaming tables roughly, and there's a second floor around the gaming floor for some of the higher stakes table games that are up there.
Howard: And you did mention there are a lot of restaurants. I recall that some of the top talent for Boston's restaurants have been siphoned off to go work at the casino.
LeMoult: A ton of restaurants, actually, and they did really make an effort to kind of create some local flavor. At the north end of the gaming floor is a restaurant called Fratelli, which is run by two restaurateurs from Boston's North End, Nick Varano and Frank DePasquale. There's a bar that only serves local beers. On the tour today, we were actually greeted there by the president of Harpoon Brewery, who was there. There's also stuff coming from pretty far away as well, including a steakhouse that imports Kobe beef from Japan. The nightclub that's here is going to be bringing in celebrity DJ's. They spent $2 million on just the sound and light system. They give us a sample. It was pretty loud and pretty impressive.
Howard: It sounds like there's a lot of ways to lose money besides the slot machines.
LeMoult: Yeah, a lot of this is not coming cheap. I got to look at some of the hotel rooms and, sure, they're pretty nice and they've got a sweeping view, but they're going for about $650 a night.
Howard: That's a lot of money, especially for Everett. I mean, I've never heard of such a thing.
LeMoult: I guess that's pretty standard for this kind of a location, because we're not just talking about Everett, we're talking about a Wynn casino, and they say that there's a customer base that's eager to hand that kind of money over to stay at a resort casino like this.
Howard: Well, if they're right, we are going to be seeing a lot of traffic on the site. That's been a real concern.
LeMoult: Yeah, there's going to be a lot of traffic. They’re actually still doing a lot of work on the roads, and as I was coming in this morning, I had to get out of my Uber on the bridge over the Mystic River, and I walked the rest of the way because the traffic just wasn't moving at all. And that's a real concern in Everett, and in the surrounding communities. I talked with Bob DeSalvio about that. He is the president of Encore Boston Harbor. And he talked about the work they've done widening roads around here, improving intersections near the resort, just to try to ease these things. "We think that we've really done everything possible to mitigate the additional traffic that we created," he said, "but we're also promoting folks to really think differently and try some mass transit options as well."
LeMoult: They're running shuttle buses from T stations, and for $7, you can take a water taxi from a couple of the stops around Boston and take it right up the river and get off at the casino.
Howard: But the fact that you had to get out of your Uber and walk the rest the way — it hasn't even opened yet. That's a little unsettling.
LeMoult: To be fair, there was a lane shut down because they were still doing work to get ready for the opening of the casino. So hopefully all the lanes will be open once this thing opens up on Sunday.
Howard: What about the people who are of concern, people with gambling addictions?
LeMoult: That is a real problem, and I talked with Bob DeSalvio about that as well today. He said It's estimated between 1 and 3 percent of people might have some kind of gambling addiction problem. And he said their staff are trained to spot problem gamblers. "If we see any of those types of signs, what we do is try to get the person to, you know, get off the game and then we try to point them in the direction of getting any possible help," he said. "We are not mental health professionals, but we are trained to make sure that we can give them the available resources that they need."
LeMoult: And there is a state program called GameSense, which has staff right here on-site to help people if that becomes an issue.
Howard: I'm sure we'll be keeping an eye on that as well. What would you say was most striking to you today on this tour?
LeMoult: You know, actually it wasn't anything inside the building. Before any of this was built, I walked around what was then just piles of contaminated dirt on the site. This used to be an old chemical plant. And now, in addition to this glitzy building, there are gardens all around, and a public harbor walk. And sure, most of the grass is artificial, but it's still come quite a ways from what this site once was.
Howard: All right. We'll certainly be keeping an eye on it. Thanks for joining us Craig.
LeMoult: You're welcome.
Howard: That's WGBH Radio's Craig LeMoult joining us from the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett. The grand opening is on Sunday.