Casinos seek to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. in Massachusetts, 2 hours past bars, restaurants
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has "never talked about" extending alcohol serving hours at casinos, its chairman said, though House lawmakers recently made a move to grant the panel that authority.
The House Ways and Means budget set for debate next week includes an outside section that would allow the commission to issue beverage licenses to casino operators permitting the sale of alcohol beyond the hour of 2 a.m. to any patron actively engaged in gaming.
"It's a legislative proposal," Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby told the News Service Wednesday. "It's up to them and if we're given the authority we'll consider it, and if we're not, we won't. That's pretty much the bottom line."
Alcohol sales would be prohibited between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. under the proposal, allowing casinos two additional hours for service beyond the 2 a.m. cap for bars and restaurants.
A spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee explained the thinking behind including the outside section.
"The section was included in order to help maximize the potential of the gaming industry in Massachusetts," spokesman Christopher Bennett wrote in an April 11 statement. "As we get nearer to the opening of the facilities and six years past the creation of the law, we need to take into account the changes in the marketplace, and ensure competitiveness. The language is not a directive, not specific to any licensee and allows the Commission to consider extending the hours."
Casinos have been licensed and are being assembled in Everett and Springfield.
On Wednesday, Crosby said he had "heard people talking about" the idea of later serving hours, but said the issue was not something the commission "ever focused on or paid any attention to."
Asked if the commission had sought the authority to extend serving hours, Crosby said, "Not particularly."
"It's not our business," he said. "My line is, we implement the law, we don't write it, and nobody's ever asked us for our opinion, we've never expressed an opinion, we've never talked about it as a commission."
Crosby declined to say whether he believed casinos would benefit from later serving hours.
"We've never talked about it, and I don't make judgements like that as an individual," he said. "The commission will deal with it if it gets to us, but this is a question of do they want to amend the gaming law in a significant way, and that's up to the Legislature. It's not up to us. It's just not our thing."
Senate President Stan Rosenberg said earlier this month he is "not a fan" of the idea, suggesting it could open the door to more changes to the casino law.
"This is the warning light," he told reporters on April 13. "If we approve this, next month there will be another proposal. And next year there will be another proposal and before you know it we'll be asked to open more casinos and we'll be asked to do all sorts of things that will undermine the state's control over these casinos."
Legislators have largely resisted revisiting the 2011 expanded gaming law that paved the way for three resort casinos and one slots-only facility, which is now open in Plainville.
Plainridge Park Casino stops serving alcohol at 1 a.m., a decision the facility made to bring its hours in line with nearby bars, Crosby said Tuesday on WGBH.
In the months leading up to the passage of the casino law, legislators debated aspects of what should be allowed in casinos, including 24-hour operations, smoking and free or discounted alcoholic drinks.
If lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker do approve the budget section, Crosby said the commission will "for sure talk about it."
"We'll have a public hearing, we'll do all the the transparent stuff that we always do," he said. "We'll bring in people who are in favor of it, we'll bring in people who are opposed to it, we'll weigh it, we'll think about it and we'll make a decision."