The first resort casino in Massachusetts, scheduled to open this summer in Springfield, wants to serve alcohol into the wee hours of the morning. The state’s restaurant industry opposes a later “last call” at the casino.
MGM Springfield is seeking permission from state gambling regulators to serve drinks on the casino floor until 4 a.m. – two hours later than the typical closing time for bars in Massachusetts.
Alex Dixon, the general manager of MGM Springfield, said being able to drink alcohol is part of the late-night casino experience people expect.
" Our business is open 24 hours and we expect people will be there 24 hours, but only if they are actively gaming would they be able to consume ( alcohol) after that 2 a.m. time frame," said Dixon.
Bars and restaurants in Massachusetts are not permitted to serve alcohol past 2 a.m. Some localities mandate a 1 a.m. closing time. But the state legislature voted to allow casinos to serve until 4 a.m. – with approval from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
The Massachusetts Restaurant Association this week urged the casino regulators to reject MGM’s request to keep the drinks flowing past 2 a.m.
MGM Springfield Vice President & General Counsel Seth Stratton said the proposal before the gaming commission is to have extended hours for alcohol service only on the casino floor.
" If you are a gaming customer and would like to have a cocktail as you continue to game up until 4 a.m. we will offer that service, but if you want to hang out at a bar, our bars close at 2 a.m. just like any other bars in the community," explained Stratton.
He said MGM is planning to enforce strict controls with drinks available only from cocktail servers to people who are actively gambling, and at two bars where customers must sit in front of video poker terminals.
"We want the public to understand there is not a 'bar scene' on our property after 2 a.m.," Stratton said.
After 2 a.m. beverages will be served in plastic cups to prevent people from attempting to leave the casino floor with a drink in-hand.
MRA president Bob Luz said MGM’s proposal for extended drinking hours has upset Springfield-area restaurant owners, who are already nervous about losing business to the big casino.
" The ability to give away food and beverage, or give it at greatly discounted prices -- beause casinos make their money on gambling, not food and beverage as opposed to restaurants -- it is really going to put a stranglehold on a lot of the longtime established local community restaurants," said Luz.
Luz points out the two resort casinos in Connecticut don’t serve alcohol past 2 a.m.
" So, why we think that is necessary out in Springfield makes me scratch my head," said Luz.
The Springfield City Council’s Casino Oversight Committee voted this week to endorse MGM’s request. City Councilor Mike Fenton, who chairs the committee, said he believes late-hour alcohol service at the casino will be a benefit to the city’s economy.
"(MGM) is going to be the first and only operation in New England that is open for alcohol service between 2 - 4 a.m. and that provides them with a distinct competitive advantage regionally, and I hope that results in attracting more parties, and conventions, and tourists to our downtown," said Fenton.
Additionally, Fenton said he is satisfied with the safeguards MGM is proposing.
" To be honest, I was worried about attracting the wrong element at the wrong time of night," said Fenton. "But when you look at the casino and see exactly where this is permitted, it is not going to be an environment condusive to attracting people from other areas to come to the casino to get a drink between 2-4. It is just not."
The five-member gaming commission is expected to vote later this month on MGM’s liquor license application.