Senate leader opposes later last call for casinos

By BOB SALSBERG Markets Associated Press

Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg, a chief architect of the state law that legalized casino gambling, said Wednesday he was strongly opposed to a new law that could allow casinos to serve alcohol until 4 a.m.

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"I hate it," Rosenberg said during an interview on Boston Herald Radio, adding that if casinos can't take a few hours off from serving drinks, "there is something wrong."

The provision was included in the $40 billion state budget signed this week by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

The 2011 casino law required that gambling establishments stop serving alcohol to patrons between the hours of 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. The change would allow casinos, which generally operate 24 hours, to seek permission from state gambling regulators to extend last call until 4 a.m., shortening the overnight hiatus.

The change was originally proposed as an outside section in the House version of the budget approved in April. Outside sections — sometimes referred to as riders — are often attached to spending bills even when they have little or nothing to do with state finances and frequently become law without a public hearing.

The casino provision was not part of the Senate budget plan but survived negotiations on a final version of the spending plan, over Rosenberg's objections, the Amherst Democrat said.

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The Senate leader said his chief concern was that the change would embolden the powerful casino lobby to seek further accommodations from the Legislature. For example, Rosenberg said he worried that casinos might in the future seek 24-hour alcohol service or to lift the state's prohibition on smoking.

"The industry will start driving the enterprise rather than the Commonwealth's regulations," he said.

Allowing casinos to serve drinks until 4 a.m. also gives them an unfair advantage over bars and restaurants that must close at 2 a.m. under state law, Rosenberg added.

The change was sought by Wynn Resorts, which is building a $2 billion casino expected to open in 2019 in Everett, just outside of Boston. The company said when the House proposal was introduced that to be competitive and attract customers from around the U.S. and overseas, it must meet expectations for a resort casino experience — noting 24-hour cocktail service is offered in Las Vegas and elsewhere.

MGM Resorts International, which plans to open a $950 million casino in Springfield next year, said it did not request the change in state law and hasn't decided whether it will request the 4 a.m. last call.

The state's only currently operating gambling facility is the Plainridge slots parlor, which stops serving alcohol at midnight under a host community agreement with the town of Plainville.

The possibility of casino patrons drinking later into the night has also raised alarms with neighboring residents and local officials.

"My concern is people drinking late leaving the casino floor and getting into a motor vehicle," Chelsea Police Brian Kyes told the Herald. "My concern is for public safety."