There has been much debate over whether Massachusetts should permit the establishment of casinos within the Commonwealth. In an interesting development, the Massachusetts Senate approved an amendment to the pending casino bill that would eliminate the famous (or infamous, as some would say) “happy hour regulations.”
Since 1984, the Massachusetts happy hour regulations have prohibited bars and restaurants from offering free or discounted drinks to their patrons. Specifically, the regulations require bars and restaurants to keep the price of a drink the same throughout the entire calendar week. Thus, no 5 p.m. discounts allowed, unless the bar or restaurant wants to charge the reduced price for the entire week. Bars and restaurants are also prohibited from altering the volume of your drink without proportionally altering the price.
The casino bill, if passed by the Massachusetts legislature, could change all of that. On Tuesday, October 11th, the Senate voted 25 to 13 to amend the pending casino bill. The amendment would essentially rid Massachusetts of the happy hour regulations for bars and restaurants, as well as casinos. The amendment must still be approved by the House and signed by the Governor into law.
The concept of the “free drink” is closely tied to casino gambling, presumably because it keeps gamblers motivated to continue gambling. Connecticut’s Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos have long offered free drinks to its customers. It is thought that if Massachusetts’ casinos are to compete, free drinks are a necessity.
However, if casinos are exempted from the happy hour regulations, many bar and restaurant owners are worried that they will not be able to compete. Thus, the amendment to the casino bill would eliminate the regulations for bars and restaurants and create a level playing field.
It also remains to be seen whether Massachusetts casinos will allow smoking. Connecticut law currently allows gamblers to smoke and Connecticut casinos have set up gambling rooms where smoking is permitted. There is no smoking amendments currently in front of the Legislature.