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Mass. officials at odds over liquor license oversight at the state's 3 casinos

MGM Springfield in a photo from 2023.
Adam Frenier
MGM Springfield in a photo from 2023.

In April the Massachusetts House switched the responsibility for some alcohol licensing enforcement in casinos to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. That role is currently held by the Gaming Commission itself. Colin Young with the State House News Service explains why this change has a Mass. Gaming commissioner concerned.

Colin Young, SHNS: It would be a big change for the Gaming Commission. And commissioners say it really could complicate their enforcement and oversight of liquor licensing at the state's casinos.

What's at issue here is that the restaurants at casinos like MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor and Plainridge Park casino, right now, the Gaming Commission handles those alcohol licenses simply because the alcohol world in casinos is sort of a world in and of itself. It functions a little bit differently than licensing for other facilities, like in restaurants and bars around the state.

So, by having the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, which usually handles liquor licenses, step in and be the one to handle the licenses for restaurants in casinos, it would create this situation where the Gaming Commission has responsibility for enforcing the liquor laws as it relates to the bars on gaming floors, but then there'd be another agency responsible for enforcing those same laws in the restaurants on the premises. So, you'd have two agencies sort of overlapping in a really small, confined space.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: After weeks of waiting, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means is set to release their proposed spending plan this week. What's known about what will be in there? Or maybe, Colin, what's likely not to be in there?

Well, a couple of things that we know will be in there will be a proposal for universal, tuition free community college. This is something that Senate President Karen Spilka has been pushing for a number of years now.

The state recently took the step of reducing costs for community college for people who are age 25 or older. But Spilka wants to go all the way to universal. There's one report that says that could cost the state about $170 million a year. We also expect to see a new public private partnership that will be focused on creating additional childcare seats across Massachusetts.

One thing we don't expect to see in the Senate's budget is the full cost of the state's emergency shelter program. The Legislature and the governor have taken this approach where they're going to appropriate generally about the same amount of money they always do for that system in the actual state budget. And then they have these tagalong supplemental budgets that can provide additional funding as it's needed throughout the year. And it looks like it's going to be the path they continue on, at least as fiscal year 2025 gets started in July.

Advocates for ballot questions are out, canvasing again for signatures to push their ballot questiononto the November ballot. This phase of signature collecting comes because the Legislative committee tasked with analyzing the budget questions declined to endorse any of the proposals. That means voters will decide this fall (if the final push for signatures is successful for each question.) Colin, is there anything surprising here?

You know, it wasn't a big surprise to me that the Legislature passed on all of these. Lawmakers typically don't get in front of these kinds of questions. In a lot of cases, people are trying to bring these to the ballot box this November because they're issues that the Legislature has shown a real unwillingness to address, in the last several years.

So typically, they don't decide that now, or [they]decide that now is the time for them to get involved. What's more typical is if a question were to pass in November, the Legislature could come back and rewrite it. That's what they did with the 2016 ballot question that legalized marijuana.

 So even though these questions of course are not finalized on the ballot, the campaign for them has begun, and so has the opposition. Organizers of one group have filed paperwork with the state to fight a measure that would boost access to psychedelic drugs. Briefly, what does the organized opposition to this field of questions look like?

There's a lot of opposition out there. Essentially, every question that's still on track to go to the ballot in November has some type of organized opposition created to try to stop it. You know, that's also a consequence of the Legislature's decision not to act here, that it really kicks off a full-fledged campaign of both people pushing for their questions, and also people trying to educate voters about what they're going to be asked in November and maybe why they should vote no or block a question.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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