BOSTON (AP) — Last call is proving to be a tough call for Massachusetts lawmakers when it comes to casinos.
Tucked away in the House version of a proposed $40.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is a proposal that could allow casinos in Massachusetts to serve liquor to gamblers until 4 a.m.
Currently, state law prohibits alcohol from being served between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m., although casinos are open for business 24 hours.
The state’s first slots parlor, in Plainville, opened in 2015, and resort casinos are under construction in Springfield and in Everett, just outside of Boston.
Here are some questions and answers about the last call at casinos.
WHAT WOULD THE PLAN DO?
The language in the House budget document would allow the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to extend the sale of alcoholic beverages at casinos beyond 2 a.m., though limited to “patrons who are actively engaged in gambling.” Last call on the gambling floor would instead be 4 a.m., but under no circumstances could alcohol be served between the hours of 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.
WHAT’S BEHIND IT?
House leaders defend the proposal as a small step toward maintaining competitiveness for Massachusetts casinos. They stress that the language would not require casinos to serve drinks until 4 a.m., and would leave any final decisions to state gambling regulators.
Even before opening, the new casinos face myriad competitive pressures, including the growing popularity of online gambling and the possibility of a third Connecticut casino being built near the Massachusetts border.
ARE CASINO DEVELOPERS PUSHING THE CHANGE?
The strongest backing comes from Wynn Resorts, which plans to open its $2 billion facility along the Mystic River in 2019. Michael Weaver, a spokesman for Wynn, said that to attract customers from the U.S. and abroad and live up to commitments for jobs and taxes in Massachusetts, the casino must meet the “widely held” expectations of casino patrons.
“Among those expectations is the option of enjoying a drink while they play at the casino,” Weaver said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for MGM Resorts International, which is scheduled to open its $950 million casino in Springfield next year, said the company had not discussed with the state an extension of liquor hours.
Under an agreement with its host community, Plainridge stops serving alcohol at midnight, according to a spokesman.
HOW DOES LAST CALL WORK ELSEWHERE?
It varies around the country, but Las Vegas allows 24-hour liquor sales on the gambling floors of hotel-casinos, as does Atlantic City, New Jersey, and resorts in Maryland. But the current Massachusetts law is in line with its immediate New England neighbors. Last call is at 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends at the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos in Connecticut, and at The Twin Rivers resort casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island.
“As a casino operator, you want to have as much flexibility as possible for your customers,” said Steve Norton, a former casino executive and now a consultant in the industry who understands why operators favor longer hours.
Patrons who gamble during the overnight hours are more likely to be guests at the hotel where the casino is located, he added, reducing to some extent the danger of drunken driving.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
There is no certainty the casino provision will survive in the Senate version of the state budget when it’s unveiled later this month. In fact, Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg, an architect of the 2011 law that legalized casino gambling, has already declared he’s “not a fan” of changing the alcohol rules, partly because he doesn’t want to open a door to future tinkering with the law.
If not included in the Senate budget, the provision could become a bargaining chip in negotiations between the two chambers over a final spending plan.
The gaming commission has not discussed or taken a position on the proposed change, but is monitoring legislative developments, according to a spokeswoman.