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Massachusetts: Senate passes bill to allow happy hour in Massachusetts

By Gabrielle Hernandez October 25, 2011
The Tufts Daily
A new amendment to Massachusetts' controversial casino bill could mean the return of happy hour.

The Massachusetts State Senate on Oct. 11 passed an amendment to the casino bill that would allow state bars and restaurants to sell happy hour alcoholic drinks, a practice outlawed in the state for over 25 years.

Massachusetts State Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) sponsored the amendment to the bill.

The bill outlines the creation of three casinos and a slot machine parlor, and would explicitly permit these establishments to provide free or discounted drinks to patrons.

Under the amendment, which passed in the Senate 25-13, bars and restaurants would be permitted to do the same, according to Massachusetts State Sen. Stephen M. Brewer (D-Barre).

"It levels the playing field for local establishments to ensure that the regulations we are imposing for gaming establishments are equal to those for surrounding businesses," Brewer told the Daily in an email.

The bill would also create a Gaming Commission that has the power to set limits on the distribution of discounted and free drinks at all establishments.

But the House of Representatives and the Senate must still resolve several differences before the casino bill is ready to be sent to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Massachusetts first outlawed "happy hour" discounts in 1984 during a spike in drunk driving accidents.

Though drunk driving has reportedly been on the decline in years since, it is still a serious problem, according to Tufts Director of Alcohol and Health Education Ian Wong.

Wong expressed concern that the legalization of happy hour would increase the number of intoxicated drivers on campus.

"We're not like Harvard Yard where you never have to cross a street until you get off campus," Wong said. "You constantly have to cross major streets on this campus, and those streets are open to the public."

Drinkers and servers will have to behave responsibly during happy hour to ensure that everyone remains safe, according to Wong.

"It's going to a take a lot of personal responsibility for this to work," he said. "People are really going to have to be responsible for themselves and their friends, and servers will have to be responsible for the number of drinks they sell."

State regulations should help guide safe happy hour sales, Brewer said.

"Massachusetts has some of the strictest regulations in the nation on drinking and establishments will still be held to the high standards imposed by the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission," Brewer said.

Senior Grace Anderson finds that bars have dealt with current restrictions by creating specials that discount food or quietly discount drinks.

"When you're done with work, you want to go to a bar and people will find a way to make that happen and make it a pleasant experience," Anderson said, adding that she supports the passage of the amendment.

Wong, however, said that the amendment could have dangerous implications given that it would affect alcohol consumption.

"It's alcohol. It's a product that's relatively dangerous if misused," Wong said. "It's not like giving away free t-shirts. It's a product that, if not used correctly, could kill you."