By Seth Daniel
The push by Wynn Boston Harbor to include a 4 a.m. liquor license for casinos in the State Budget paid off Monday, July 17, when Gov. Charlie Baker signed off on a budget that included the special license in an “Outside Area” of the budget.
The 4 a.m.-license in the budget does not yet mean Wynn is free and clear to get the extended license – which goes beyond the normal 2 a.m. closing by two hours, but requires anyone drinking in those hours to be actively playing a casino game. The budget item only allows the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) to grant such a casino license if it deems such a move appropriate.
Elaine Driscoll, spokesperson for the MGC, said they have reviewed the amended statute and would conduct a thorough public discussion if any licensee were to request the extension. To date, she said, none have.
“If a licensee makes a request to extend drinking hours pursuant to the amended statute, the commission would expect to conduct an extended public discussion on the issue and hear from a full range of constituencies, but at this time, no such request has been made,” she said.
That likely won’t be for long though, as Wynn Boston Harbor has made no bones about its desire to have the extended, but restricted, liquor license.
Earlier in the spring, Wynn said it needed the extended hours to be competitive in the marketplace on the East Coast – citing that competing casinos in New Jersey and Maryland had 24-hour liquor licenses. They said they were willing to compromise so as to have a 4 a.m. closing, with the extra hours being limited only to service on the casino floor and only to patrons actively involved in playing.
“Wynn Boston Harbor will attract tourists from across the country and around the world who are expecting a late-night resort experience,” said Bob DeSalvio, president of Wynn Boston Harbor. “This legislation allows us to deliver an enjoyable stay for guests while maximizing job creation and tax revenue to the Commonwealth. It’s important to note that the extended two-hour service is limited only to patrons who are actively playing on the casino floor, and will not apply to any other restaurants and lounges located in our resort, in the City of Everett or in any of our surrounding communities.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said it comes down to helping the casino become competitive in the international market, and the state has to think beyond its borders when talking about the Wynn property.
“In order to be a preferred destination for an international clientele, the Wynn Resort Casino needs to be able to serve alcohol to their patrons while they are gaming,” he said. “Most resort casinos, from around the world, are allowed to serve alcohol 24 hours a day…I fully support this authorization and commend the Legislature and the Governor for supporting this proposal, and I look forward to engaging with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission when they consider permitting the sale of alcoholic beverages beyond the hour of 2 am. to only those who are actively engaged in gaming activities.”
He said the MGC will only help its cause and draw people to Everett and Boston rather than Asia or Las Vega.
“The Commission will provide the resort with the ability to compete much more effectively in the international gaming market, and help them to bring in an international clientele who might otherwise instead choose to patronize gaming establishments in Asia, Europe or Las Vegas,” said the mayor.
However, some prominent members of state government – though the budget did pass already – were not on board and chided Wynn for pursuing the license.
“I’ve opposed this from the beginning,” said Sen. President Stan Rosenberg. “This is a national pattern. Applicants know the rules when they compete for a license. Once they win the license they begin to chip away at the rules. This is especially troubling given that these resort style casinos haven’t even opened yet. This is only the beginning of the industry using their increasing power to undermine the state’s thoughtful and considered policy.”
City Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who represents the area where the casino lies, said he believes the state can implement later hours, and said he will make sure that it’s done with an eye toward public safety.
“I understand that the intent of introducing casino gaming to Massachusetts was to attract tourists from around the globe,” he said. “To ensure that these people come and spend money in our city and state, we need to be competitive with other international destinations. Late night hours are successfully implemented all around the world and I am confident that we are capable of doing it successfully here.”
Meanwhile, in neighboring cities, Charlestown State Rep. Dan Ryan said the inclusion in the State Budget should be an invitation for Wynn – if they apply for the extension from the MGC – to begin a discussion with the communities.
“I have expressed concerns in the past as to extended alcohol service hours in general, and at gaming establishments in particular,” he said. “This section of the budget is a pro-active and necessary step for the further consideration of the extended hours discussion. This is the first step in a discussion not a final verdict.”
Ryan said he believes that, having worked in hospitality since high school, there needs to be a discussion about how to make sure the casino doesn’t become a spilling ground for everyone in Boston who wants to get a last drink.
“From a pure business point of view, my gut tells me, no world-class establishment wants to become a late night drop-in for those seeking an extended late last call,” he said. “With this in mind, should the MGC grant late night licenses, I see input from surrounding communities as vital to helping Wynn and other gaming establishments ensure that this does not happen.”