Shaq Highlights Entertainment Business at Encore Opening

When you think of night life on the Mystic River post-June 23, think of a 7-foot-tall retired NBA star who can spin tunes as skillfully as he formerly shattered backboards.

On Thursday, June 27, NBA Hall-of-Famer (and one-time Boston Celtic) Shaquille O’Neal will headline the Memoire nightclub at Encore Boston Harbor, bringing his ultra-popular DJ Diesel act to the casino.

O’Neal has had an existing relationship with the Wynn team in Las Vegas, appearing there at their properties numerous times. Forbes magazine called him the most successful DJ on the planet since launching his newest career in 2017. Now, that DJ relationship is likely going to trickle into Boston on a somewhat-frequent basis as he joins the new acts coming here.

“We have a private event next weekend where we have invited guests coming in for dinner and a concert with Earth, Wind & Fire,” said Encore President Bob DeSalvio, highlighting the entertainment options that are to come to the resort. “We have the week after that Paul Anka doing a private concert for our VIP guests as well. We’re going to have our first sporting event July 12 working with Ken Casey and Murphy’s Boxing for a championship boxing event right in our Picasso Ballroom. We’re going to continue to look at other opportunities using our current 37,000 sq. ft. ballroom facility.”

Such stars and small shows are going to be relatively common at the Encore as time goes on, officials said.

At the same time, Encore will not be hosting large-capacity Las Vegas-style shows at in-house theatres.

In fact, they are not allowed such a thing.

The state’s gaming law was very specific in spelling out just how many guests could be at an on-site show or event, hoping not to cannibalize the existing theatre and event spaces already in Boston. With that, Encore had created codified relationships with venues like the Wang Theatre and the TD Garden. Those two venues and others will play large in concert with the Big Night Entertainment sponsored Memoire Nightclub on the property.

DeSalvio said, “However, there is a second piece to this because Boston has wonderful tourism assets right at our fingertips. We already have arrangements with the Red Sox for a wonderful suite at Fenway. They also have a wonderful concert series. We have a suite box at the TD Garden and besides the sporting events, they have some of the best concert lineups in the country. We have a suite at Gillette Stadium. They also have a concert series there. We have arrangements with the Wang Theatre and so there are great assets here. One thing we really like about being in eastern Massachusetts is there are so many other wonderful things for our guests to do. We want our guests to go out and explore the region…We think that will be the key to them making more trips in the future.”

•A key business that has emerged – and in some cases has nothing to do with the casino – is group bookings for conventions at the Encore.

With the 37,000 sq. ft. Picasso Ballroom and a total of 50,000 sq. ft. of convention and meeting space, there has been strong interest from groups looking to come to Boston for conventions.

Encore’s Joan Esneault said they are finding international companies with offices in Boston or the United States having great interest in Encore.

“We are seeing international companies that have offices in the United States inquire with us,” she said. “We’re really booked up for the fall and winter. We have lots of groups looking to book many rooms. It’s a very unique space for Boston. We can tell you we have a mid-size convention with 200 rooms for mid-August, and in September around Labor Day we have a company that has booked 600 rooms for three nights and 1,000 people. Each week in September is totally full. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and that’s a very desirable space for a convention.”

She said while the resort is popular for the gaming, one thing that booking agents have also noted is that it’s a gaming resort where the gaming isn’t in your face.

“You don’t have to go through a casino to get to the ballroom,” she said. “Some groups are sensitive to the casino aspect and like that quality in this resort.”

And of course, they also like the huge ballroom.

“It is larger than any hotel ballroom in all of the City of Boston,” she said.

News and Notes

•Not For Sale

One of the questions nearly everyone forgot in the excitement of the opening was the potential sale of the property that had been bantered around about a month ago.

All that talk was quickly put to rest by Maddox, who said the property isn’t for sale.

“Encore Boston Harbor is not for sale,” he said steadfastly. “It’s actually a key strategy in the company. We believe this is really one of the first integrated resorts in a major metropolitan area. It’s a calling card for other states and other jurisdictions globally to think about putting large-scale integrated resorts that can create real urban renewal and economic progress…This is really quite strategic for our company.”

He said that aspect of an urban resort has attracted media from Japan – a key area for future growth that has been identified by the company. There were 25 journalists from Japan that visited the resort on Tuesday, June 25.

• International Tourism a Key Part

Maddox said they are leveraging their marketing connections worldwide to make Everett more of an international destination at the Encore. That, he said, will be a key part of their business going forward. Already, next week, he said, they will begin brining in some of their big players from Asia to visit Boston.

“We are in the business of tourism, and we believe our company will be able to attract significant international tourism because people…are really interested to come to Boston. This is a great tourist destination and we have great relationships and marketing offices around the world. We actually have some of our Far East players checking in next week. They want to come and check it out. We’re focused on the region for sure, but we’re focused on the planet. Because Boston is such a terrific tourist destination, we’ll be able to be much more global.

•All in on Sports Betting

The state lawmakers have been a bit slow to act on Gov. Charlie Baker’s legislation to approve sports wagering in Massachusetts, but Maddox said they are ready to go if the state does approve sports betting.

The governor’s bill is now in the legislature and lawmakers are studying the effects it might have on games. House Speaker Bob DeLeo has told the Independent in the past he is concerned about the integrity of the games if betting is allowed, and wants to study that carefully.

Said Maddox, “We do support sports betting and I know lawmakers are thinking about that and being very careful about how that will be implemented. If it is, we have identified a place. We have a design we’ve worked out and would be ready to move forward if that opportunity exists.”

• Encore Commits to Paying for Pedestrian Bridge

Encore Boston Harbor officials on Friday reinforced their commitment to paying for the construction of the $32 million pedestrian bridge across the Mystic River – as long as other partner step up too.

CEO Matt Maddox and Encore President Bob DeSalvio said they are looking for the City of Somerville and the state to also make investments in the Draw 7 Park and the MBTA Orange Line Head House. If those things are done, Encore will pay for the bridge.

“We have said all along there are three parts to the crossing…,” said DeSalvio. “We didn’t want a bridge to nowhere. The DCR has been working in conjunction with the City of Somerville on re-doing Draw 7 Park. It’s really important that connection be made. Otherwise we would be afraid folks would go over that bridge and land in an unfinished area. We think the finishing of that Draw 7 Park is a critical component.

“We also feel if somebody makes the effort to cross over that bridge, they have to have an easy connection to get up to the T,” he continued.

That, he said, requires significant investment from the state.

“We’ve asked for others to participate in that as well,” said DeSalvio. “Matt’s commitment early on was if DCR works on the park, and the Head House project is completed, our company would be willing to move forward on the bridge portion of the project. So it’s a partnership. We are expecting multiple stakeholders to participate because there multiple beneficiaries to that project.”

Added Maddox, “It’s really a great part of the City’s vision to make this a full entertainment region where you can go over to Assembly in Somerville and it’s all interconnected with access to the Orange Line.”

• Practice Was Good, but Few Opening Issues

The Play Days last week with friends of the casino and area residents turned out to be very good practice for the opening, Maddox told reporters.

“If you think about it, no business opens everything at once,” he said. “Most businesses open and ramp up and grow as they grow. Not these. You open and go from zero to 100. We learned a lot of things, like running out of glassware to no napkins to the ice machine didn’t work.

“In terms of problems, there are the least amount of issues at opening than any opening I’ve been associated with,” he continued. “It’s really just operational tweaking. These properties just ramp. We’re probably 90 days until it’s running like a machine. It will be great in the beginning, but the Wynn service standard will be in about two or three months.”

•Friendly Competitors

Encore President Bob DeSalvio said he didn’t expect to pull customers away from the MGM Springfield property, which has been operating for almost one year now. He said they are more a regional draw, and a friendly competitor.

“The property in Springfield I feel is much more of a regional destination,” he said. “I know they draw heavily from the Hartford market and the areas surrounding it. We’re looking for a much broader tourism play here. I think Springfield will continue to do well there. I think they’ll continue to stay strong in their regional segment. We’re actually looking for a little different type of market and I think we can peacefully co-exist.”

• Non-gaming Revenues Expected

“I would expect this would be somewhere in between what we experience in Las Vegas, which is majority non-gaming, to what we experience in Macau, which is mostly gaming,” said Maddox. “This will be a very vibrant casino, but we’re looking forward to the non-gaming assets doing quite well here.”

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