Should Massachusetts Lift Its Happy Hour Ban?

A bar sign (Photo courtesy: Flickr/Creative Commons)


An amendment to gambling legislation in Massachusetts could reverse the state's nearly 30-year-old ban on happy hours. (Photo courtesy: Flickr/Creative Commons)

So the latest debate around the casino gambling bill moving toward approval on Beacon Hill is about liquor. It's no secret that one of the ways casino operators get people to fork over their money is by plying them with free drinks.

And it makes sense. After all, the more you drink, the better you might feel, and the more inclined you might be to overlook those long odds that favor the house. So free drinks at casinos are good business.

But what's good for the casinos might be bad for bars and restaurants. For the past 27 years, they've been prohibited from offering happy hour deals — like two-for-one drink specials, or free booze giveaways. So if people can drink for free in the casinos, they might drink less at their local bar, where business would take a hit.

That's why State Senator Robert Hedlund, who owns a restaurant in Weymouth, sponsored an amendment to "level the playing field." The result? The Senate voted to roll back the prohibition on happy hour.

The House hasn't approved the measure, and it's one of several differences that a legislative committee will have to work out before the final casino bill is approved. But critics say bringing back happy hour is a terrible idea that would cost lives.

Among them, former Governor Michael Dukakis, who now teaches at Northeastern University. Dukakis was Governor back in 1984 when he made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to outlaw happy hours. Earlier today he told Radio Boston that when he was in office, the state and the nation were confronting an epidemic of drunk driving. If Massachusetts reverses its ban on happy hours, he said, "dozens and dozens of people in this state are going to lose their lives."



More from WBUR