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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

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Encore Boston Harbor unveils sparkling new sports bar, minus sports betting

20 Sep 2021

By Gary Trask
While Massachusetts legislators continue to drag their collective feet and haggle in their chambers about getting a sports betting bill across the finish line, the folks at Encore Boston Harbor are plowing full speed ahead.

Like every other amenity at the lavish $2.6 billion resort that opened just outside Boston city limits two years ago, the new WynnBET Sports Bar is spectacular.

With more than 60 televisions, a striking 10-foot-high by 123-foot-long video wall that stretches across the entire venue, new grab-and-go food and beverage options, comfortable seating, VIP sections and a dynamic atmosphere, the ultramodern space, located in the former home of The Buffet steps off the main casino floor, offers everything a sports fan could ask for.

Except, of course, sports betting.

Massachusetts has been kicking around the proverbial sports betting can ever since the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the nationwide prohibition on sports wagering back in May 2018. During that time, sports betting has been legalized in 32 states and records are routinely being broken across the U.S., particularly in the last two weeks as the NFL season kicked off.

Just last week, the opening schedule of NFL games drew 58.2 million legal online sports betting transactions in the U.S., a 126% increase year-over-year, according to GeoComply.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts House passed legislation in July legalizing sports betting, but the bill has yet to make it to the floor of the state Senate. As the bill sits idle, so do the betting windows at WynnBET Sports Bar that are ready, willing and able to begin accepting bets when it’s legal to do so.

According to Jenny Holaday, Encore Boston Harbor President, if a Massachusetts sports betting bill was made law and all of the regulation red tape was resolved, those betting windows would be occupied and taking action within four weeks.

“We have the org chart done, we have the job descriptions done and they’ve been approved by the (Gaming) Commission,” she said with conviction. “All we would have to do is hire and train and we would be ready to go.”

Holaday is much like the many Bay State sports bettors who find it hard to believe Massachusetts doesn’t offer a legal and regulated sports betting market, while neighboring states like Rhode Island, New Hampshire and, beginning in two weeks, Connecticut are already enjoying the gold rush. Sixteen of the 23 states home to NFL teams have launched a regulated market and as Holaday pointed out, Boston is one of the few major cities in the U.S. with four professional sports teams that is not accepting bets and taking advantage of the tax revenue.

“How can we not have it yet? We’re giving it away,” she said. “We have sports bettors crossing state lines to bet. Think about, all of those states, they don’t even have professional teams. They want our teams.”

Nevertheless, the lack of legal sports betting in the state most certainly hasn’t taken away from the luster of the WynnBET Sports Bar. Business has been brisk since it officially opened on Sept. 11, especially during New England Patriot games.

“As I keep telling everybody, the only difference between right now and when we have sports betting is those windows would be open,” said Holaday, who was previously Encore Boston Harbor’s Executive Vice President of Operations and has also worked as a senior marketing officer for Caesars Entertainment in Atlantic City and MotorCity Casino in Detroit. “I think it’s the most beautifully designed space we’ve ever delivered.”

On top off providing a glamorous space to watch sports, the creation of WynnBET Sports Bar allowed the resort to introduce a few features it was lacking previously, particularly more casual food and beverage options and additional bar seating.

Locals Frank DePasquale and Nick Varano, who have a dozens of Boston area restaurants in their portfolio, including Fratelli at Encore Boston Harbor, have opened Frank & Nick's, dubbed as an “approachable and casual dining concept,” at WynnBET Sports Bar where guests order via counter-service or grab-and-go. The menu features a selection of Boston's North End favorites, such as Rosetta’s meatball sub, eggplant and chicken Parmigiana and house made roast beef paninis, but it was the brick oven pizza that stopped this pizza-lover in his tracks.

“It’s so exciting for us to be a part of this,” Varano said with a gleam in his eyes as he looked up at the massive screen showing a Red Sox game. “This place is already electric. I can’t wait to see it once we have sports betting. This town is crazy about sports. It will be unbelievable once we finally open those windows.”

On the other side of WynnBET is a new Shake Shack offering its “modern-day burger stand” menu and a much-needed rectangular bar with video poker machines and dozens of TVs.

Speaking of bar seating, smack dab in the middle of WynnBET there is a 15-seat full-service bar with tabletop video poker that sits just under an extra-large spherical digital display that scrolls non-stop with sports scores and odds.

“We were definitely ‘under-barred’ before this and Boston can always use another place to watch a game,” Holaday added. “So I feel like we checked a lot of boxes.

“This is so much better than the sportsbooks in Vegas. It’s smaller. It’s more charming and accessible. It’s gorgeous,” she added. “We’ll just have to be really patient while we wait for those windows to get occupied. In the meantime, I don’t think there’s a better spot in the city for Boston sports fans to watch their teams.”
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