Boston Mayor Marty Walsh went to court to try to stop the Everett casino project. And his struggle with alcohol is a well-known chapter of his political biography.
But he insists his objection to granting Encore Boston Harbor a special license to serve alcohol up until 4 a.m. is not personal. It’s about fairness — or more specifically, unfairness to other bars and restaurants. “I’m not looking to hurt them (Encore). It’s not spiteful,” said Walsh, in an interview. “I think this needs a larger conversation.”
If more talk is needed, it should be about extending the state-mandated 2 a.m. closing time for everyone, not about forcing it on a casino that’s supposed to pour millions of new revenue into the state. The golden gambling palace, set to open in Everett in June, is seeking a special license to serve complimentary drinks up until 4 a.m. — as long as you are “actively engaged in gambling.” Approving it is up to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which already gave the go-ahead for the 4 a.m. extension to the MGM casino in Springfield.
The Massachusetts Restaurant Association, which unsuccessfully fought the MGM license, is also fighting the Encore Boston request. “Our problem isn’t with Encore,” said restaurant association president Bob Luz. “They are a responsible group doing what they can do to conduct business.” But imagine the impact on area establishments, said Luz, if customers rush out to take advantage of two hours of free alcohol at the casino. There are proposed restrictions on who can be served and how often, but for serious bar hoppers, the allure would be great.
Walsh said he wants the casino “to make its case” as to why it wants to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. “I don’t understand why they need it at this particular moment,” said Walsh. “I want to see the plan, how they are going to monitor it.” How alcohol is regulated is important. But why a casino would want to serve it past 2 a.m. isn’t much of a mystery. When drinks flow, so does money. And like it or not, that’s what Massachusetts bought into with casinos.
Meanwhile, the mayor should guard against looking like a spoiler. Back in 2015, Boston filed suit against the Gaming Commission in an effort to stop the Everett casino, claiming it would exacerbate traffic woes in Charlestown, and arguing that Boston should be considered a host community. The case was dismissed at the request of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The city subsequently resumed talks with Wynn Resorts, the casino operator, and worked out a mitigation package that totaled $68 million.
Walsh’s policy positions are also viewed through the prism of his own experience. “My name is Marty Walsh and I’m an alcoholic,” was the first line of the speech he delivered to the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. He has supported and been supported by the recovery community since he first ran for mayor. He opposed marijuana legalization because of his own views on addiction and initially resisted safe injection sites for drug users. His support for a drug treatment facility on Long Island again connects to his personal experience leading meetings for fellow addicts on the island.
But Walsh said his concern about a 4 a.m. last call in Everett has “nothing to do” with his own life story. He rightly points out that, a few years ago, a Late Night Task Force set up by his administration came up with a proposal that would allow Boston to extend bar hours past 2 a.m. It stalled on Beacon Hill, and there has been no effort to revive it.
That’s where Walsh should pour his energies — if it’s really business, not personal.