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Massachusetts Casinos Prevail In Lawsuits Challenging Blackjack Payouts

Casino gambling chips.
Jamie Adams
Creative Commons / flickr.com/people/74159937@N00
Casino gambling chips.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court sided this week with Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield in a two-year dispute over whether the casinos have been duping customers by paying out at less favorable odds for blackjack wins.

The SJC considered two cases. One is a class action complaint filed in U.S. District Court in 2019 that took specific issue with the Wynn Resorts casino paying out a blackjack — when a player is dealt an ace and any card having a point value of 10 — at 6-to-5 odds rather than at 3-to-2 odds. The other is a similar case against MGM Springfield that was dismissed by the Massachusetts Superior Court and sent to the SJC on appeal.

The high court affirmed the Superior Court's dismissal of the MGM case.

It also answered the question that the federal court had referred to it by agreeing with Encore that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission's rules, as of February 2019, allowed a casino to pay 6-to-5 odds to a player who was dealt a winning blackjack hand.

The casinos were represented by attorneys from Brown Rudnick.

"[T]he plaintiffs lose this last bet," Justice Scott Kafker wrote in the court's ruling Wednesday. "They should have quit while they were ahead."

After the complaint against Encore attracted media attention in July 2019, Bruce Band, assistant director of the commission's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, said his team of investigators "reviewed the claims and have preliminarily found Encore to be in compliance with the commission's rules and regulations for paying out blackjack."

Regardless, the gaming commission in October 2020 approved blackjack rules changes that its general counsel said were "designed to ensure clarity."

All references to the 6-to-5 "variation" of blackjack were removed from the commission's rules, which the commission said at the time would "remove the confusion between the game of blackjack using the option to pay blackjack at odds of 6 to 5."

"The changes ... address these concerns and clarify the meaning of 6-to-5 by eliminating the 6-to-5 variation from the game of blackjack and we think that that addresses the issues," said Carrie Torrisi, the gaming commission's associate general counsel, in October when giving an update on the legal issues around blackjack.

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