New Proposal Could Make “Happy Hours” Legal in Mass., Ending Ban That Has Been in Effect Since 1984

Posted by erik devaney

When Massachusetts officially banned “happy hours” and similar drink promotions back in 1984, the State was not in the middle of passing a casino gambling bill; a bill that authorizes the creation of three resort casinos, one slots parlor and – apparently – a whole new attitude toward alcohol sales.

As a part of the Massachusetts Senate’s proposed casino plan, in-state casinos would be issued “gaming beverage licenses.” Unlike the traditional alcoholic beverage licenses that Bay State bar and restaurant owners are used to, these new licenses could allow casinos to give free drinks to customers as part of promotions, to provide drink specials that vary by night and to allow for other drink deals that are currently banned under state law.

The prospect of removing state restrictions on drink promotions for gaming establishments, but keeping them intact for bars and restaurants, clearly struck a nerve with Senator Robert Hedlund, a Republican from Weymouth.

Hedlund, who owns the Four Square restaurant in Weymouth Landing, recently sponsored an amendment to the casino gambling bill.  The amendment promises to alter current alcoholic beverage licenses so that bars and restaurants will only be constrained by those restrictions that apply to the new “gaming beverage licenses.”

To put it more plainly, whatever the State decides to allow for casinos in terms of promotional liquor sales, that’s what Hedlund wants to allow for restaurants and bars.

In a recent interview, Senator Hedlund told New England Post that if you look around the country, “everywhere that gaming has been introduced, it’s had a huge impact on local businesses.” Hedlund gave the example of Atlantic City, stating that of the 45 restaurants in the area, 30 were knocked out of business by casinos. Due to the “free drinks, free food, free lodging and free entertainment” offered by casinos, Hedlund contends that it’s hard for existing businesses to compete.

The underlying motivation for Hedlund’s amendment isn’t to promote or encourage drinking, but to create an equal playing field for those local bars and restaurants. According to the Senator, allowing bars and restaurants to hold “happy hours” and similar drink promotions would encourage competition; both between different eating/drinking establishments and between those establishments and casinos. However, as Hedlund told New England Post, “No restaurant owner wants to give stuff away for free.”

When asked about the 1984 law that banned “happy hours”, Senator Hedlund called it “archaic” and noted that people need to “separate emotion from statistics.”

The reality of situation, according to Hedlund, is that the 1984 ban had no effect on the number of drunk driving arrests, deaths or other alcohol-related incidents that occurred in the state. Instead, the real game-changer was Melanie’s Law passed in 2005, which enhanced penalties for drunk driving.

As Senator Hedlund told New England Post, Massachusetts should focus on “targeting the drunk drivers, not the restaurants.”

Hedlund’s amendment was recently passed by the Senate with a vote of 25 to 13, but is still awaiting approval from the House. As Senate President Therese Murray said in the State House when asked about the proposal, “It’s got a long way to go.”

Related posts:

  1. Mass. Senate May Wrap Up Gambling Bill This Week
  2. New Mass. Gambling Bill Unveiled
  3. Mass. House Votes to Bring Casino Gambling to the Bay State
  4. Mass. House to Launch Casino Gambling Debate
  5. Prominent Mass. Bottler Against Expanded Bill

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Posted by erik devaney on Oct 12 2011. Filed under Featured - For home page featured article, General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “New Proposal Could Make “Happy Hours” Legal in Mass., Ending Ban That Has Been in Effect Since 1984”

  1. Jonathan S

    Sounds fair, thanks Bob Hedlund.

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