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Liquor laws: Lay off hotels that give free bubbly

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In the quarter-century they’ve been in place, Massachusetts’ highly restrictive alcohol laws have led to some absurdities. The most recent occurred when Boston police conducted stings at two upscale hotels that offered free glasses of sparkling wine to guests upon check-in. While hotels serving up complimentary bubbly should be applauded for going the extra mile — especially in welcoming tourists — it’s a reason to call the cops in Massachusetts, which prevents establishments from offering free drinks. In bars that use freebies to get customers to drink more, that prohibition makes sense. In luxury hotel rooms, it’s a throwback to banned-in-Boston prudishness.

Fortunately, the Boston Licensing Board ruled that because the Liberty Hotel had paid for the alcohol before giving it away — including state taxes — it hadn’t broken the law. Unless that decision is appealed, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission has no plans to take up the case, which provides a useful loophole for the Liberty and other hotels to exploit.

When the prohibition against alcoholic freebies was first crafted in the 1980s, it was intended mainly to prevent drunken driving. Guests checking into hotels aren’t likely to get behind the wheel. Next week, when the licensing board hears the case of a similar giveaway at the Revere Hotel on Stuart Street, it should find a way to dismiss it, as well. That would give the police enough reasons to stop the stings altogether.

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