A low-roller’s guide to Encore Boston Harbor

Want to explore the new casino without making too serious of a dent in your bank account? Here's how.

BOSTON, MA - 06/23/2019 Encore Boston Harbor's ferry travels across the harbor after picking up casino goers from the grand opening day at Massachusetts' newest casino. Created by Boston BoatWorks and operated by Bay State Cruise Company, Encore Boston Harbor will have four ferries going back and forth from the Seaport District and Long Wharf. Erin Clark for The Boston Globe
Encore Boston Harbor's ferry travels across the harbor after picking up casino-goers. –Erin Clark for The Boston Globe

Encore Boston Harbor has aspirations of attracting some of the highest rollers from across the world. 

But for novice gamblers who aren’t planning on shelling out for private gambling rooms or hundred-dollar seafood towers, a trip to the Everett casino can be somewhat daunting: Where will my money go the furthest on the casino floor? How do I avoid high table minimums? Where can I find the best cheap meal? Can I find a cheap meal?

And while those tight on money might perhaps want to reconsider going to a casino in the first place, here’s how to make the most of the $2.6 billion resort on a relatively reasonable budget.

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For starters, the most affordable way of getting to Encore involves leaving your car at home — or at least far away from the casino. On-site parking costs $22 for six hours or $42 for 24 hours. Meanwhile, the casino has free shuttles to several nearby MBTA stops, a $7 water shuttle to Boston’s seaport and downtown, and a $14 round-trip bus to park-and-ride locations in Millbury, Rockland, and Londonderry, New Hampshire.

However, the real challenge begins once you walk through the casino doors.

One option for low-stakes gamblers are the slot machines: They’re hard to miss and many require minimum bets of less than a dollar, sometimes just a few cents.

But if repeatedly pulling a lever (or pressing a button) isn’t your thing, there are stadium-style gaming terminals immediately to the right inside the actual casino floor’s front entrances. Encore officials say the stadium-style video card games are tailored for beginners and have $5 minimums, a good place to get one’s feet off the ground without immediately going into a hole.

The casino also positions more familiar games like blackjack and roulette front and center — between the gaming floor’s front entrances and the bar in the middle of the room. Doug Williams, the head of table games for Encore Boston Harbor, says table games can be found with minimums as low as $25, a very modest price compared to the second-floor poker room where you’ll have to pony up at least $100 to get a seat.

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But here’s the bad news: you probably won’t be able to find minimums that low on the weekends. 

As with any casino, the minimums fluctuate depending on demand. So expect peak nights to be more expensive than, say, a weekday afternoon; late on a Friday or Saturday night, it might be difficult to find any table game with less than a $100 buy-in. The casino is also expected to be generally less busy in the summer than in the fall.

But hey, at least the casino floor has free drinks for active gamblers. And there aren’t minimums for that.

If you’re saving your money for the casino floor, the next challenge is finding a relatively affordable meal. Aside from the $68 caviar-topped lobster rolls and the $59 veal parmigiana, food prices across the board at Encore are pretty steep — even compared to the median downtown Boston restaurant. For example, most entrees start in the $30 range; cocktails cost $16, give or take two dollars; and you won’t find a beer for less than $8 (and that’s for the likes of Budweiser and Coors Light).

Perhaps the most cost-effective option is the casino-floor buffet. For roughly $40, the expansive buffet has all-you-can-eat seafood, meat, salads, pizza, seasonal dishes, and desserts (drinks not included).

But if $40 is still too much or the wait at the buffet is too long, there a few cheaper off-floor options.

Encore’s sports bar, On Deck, offers $12 chili and burgers and salads starting at $16. Red 8, the casino floor-adjacent Chinese food restaurant, has appetizers like dumplings and BBQ pork buns for $9 to $10, as well as several entrees around $20 or less. And the casino’s cafe Bru has breakfast food for less than $12, $7 soups, and sandwiches around $12.

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Of course, if you’re truly priced out, there’s always the casino-floor Dunkin’.

Casino officials also point to the free activities Encore has to offer. Visitors can freely view millions of dollars worth of artwork and sculptures inside and around the resort. There’s also a publicly accessible harborwalk with views of the Mystic River.

One thing that isn’t free is Encore’s on-site lodging (unless you’re a frequent gambler getting comped a room, in which case you probably wouldn’t be reading this article).

When the casino first opened, standard rooms were going for $650 a night — with suites priced in the thousands. And while standard rooms have now dropped below $400 on summer weeknights, the prices are slated to rise right back up toward the $700 range — and nearly $1,000 on some weekends — this fall, according to the casino’s website.

A number of nearby hotels provide the chance to save a hundred — or hundreds, if you’re planning a stay in the fall — dollars a night compared to cost of the admittedly luxurious rooms at Encore. About a mile down the road on the Revere Beach Parkway is the boutique enVision Boston-Everett hotel, which lists two-to-four-person rooms in the $200 range or less, depending how early you book. Roughly the same distance in the other direction in Somerville is the Holiday Inn Boston-Bunker Hill, which is slightly more expensive. And across the river in Assembly Row is The Row, which is on the pricier end — rooms below $300 in the summer, and rising in the fall — but also just made Travel and Leisure‘s list of the world’s best hotels.

If you’re really looking to save when it comes to lodging, there is a $50-a-night Backpackers Hostel less than a mile away from Encore on Sweetser Circle in Everett. Or try exploring Airbnb, which shows options under $100 a night in Everett, Somerville, and Medford.

Who knows, those extra savings might be needed to get on a poker table.