Two New Bills Before Governor Patrick Affecting Alcoholic Beverages Law in Massachusetts

Two new bills reached Governor Deval Patrick’s desk yesterday that could impact the way alcoholic beverages are sold and served in Massachusetts.

First, the hotly debated Casino Bill was finally passed by the Massachusetts Senate and House, and now awaits the Governor’s signature. As we mentioned in an earlier posting, a previous version of the legislation would have eliminated the statewide Happy Hour Regulations. Section 26(c) of the Casino Bill, if signed into law by Governor Patrick, will allow casinos to serve free drinks to patrons. In essence, the Happy Hour Regulations will not apply to casinos serving alcohol to patrons under a gaming beverage license. Service of free drinks will only be allowed in actual gaming areas.

To address concerns of the restaurant and bar industries, section 106 of the Bill mandates that the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) study the impact of such competition between the gaming industry and on-premises alcohol retailers. The restaurant and bar industries are worried that free drinks at casinos may lure customers away from their establishments. At least two public hearings would be held across the Commonwealth, and the ABCC would issue a report no later than June 30, 2013.

The second bill passed by the legislature and awaiting the Governor’s signature expands the maximum number of off-premises (or package store) alcoholic beverages licenses any single entity can hold in Massachusetts. Previously, an individual, corporation, or other business entity was only allowed to have an interest in three alcoholic beverages licenses. If Governor Patrick signs Senate Bill 2033 into law, the maximum number will increase from three to five in 2012, seven in 2016, and nine in 2020.

Governor Patrick is expected to sign both bills into law early next week.