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Could Happy Hour Be Returning To Massachusetts?

BOSTON (CBS) - The state Senate passed an amendment in the casino debate Tuesday to level the playing field between casinos and outside businesses that could be a first step in the return of so-called Happy Hour specials.

Democratic State Senator James Timilty, Republican Senator Robert Hedlund, and President of the Restaurant and Business Alliance Dave Andelman came up with the proposal for the "The Restaurant Equality Amendment" to ensure no restaurant is given an advantage over another, and to protect smaller businesses that are not part of casinos.

Right now, state law restricts daily or hourly discounts on alcoholic drinks in Massachusetts.

WBZ-TV's Karen Anderson reports

But the casino plan passed in the House allows casinos to serve free alcohol.

The Senate also approved a similar measure to allow casinos to serve free alcohol, and then passed the Restaurant Equality Amendment, to give other restaurants outside of casinos the same rights.

Senator Hedlund, a restaurant owner, says the goal is, "to level the playing field for the existing businesses we have in Massachusetts and the casinos that come to Massachusetts."

He says, "This is going to change the landscape dramatically in terms of that level of competition. This just simply allows restaurants the same promotions casinos will be offering."

But opponents, like Senator Susan Fargo, say the original law restricting drink deals was passed for a reason.

"Quite a few years ago, following many accidents attributed to drunk driving, we outlawed happy hour and discounted drinks. And that policy has been a good one providing for public safety," she said.

If the restrictions were lifted, she said, "I think we would see a sharp increase in driving fatalities and injuries. There's no point to do it."

Somerville Senator Pat Jehlen says her first priority is to protect her local businesses from special casino deals. She says she doesn't think the so-called Happy Hour laws should be changed without more debate.

Senator Jehlen says, "I think there was a reason it was passed. Laws don't pass easily and to do it in the middle of a casino debate is a mistake."

She explains, "I think there should be a level playing field, and at least in this version there is a level playing field. Is it a good playing field? I don't know because we haven't done any work on that."

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