Foxwoods wants later 'last call' to keep up with Mass. casino

Mashantucket — With a soon-to-open Springfield, Mass., casino preparing to serve alcohol to gamblers until 4 a.m., the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe will seek permission to extend hours of service at the tribe's Foxwoods Resort Casino, a tribal spokeswoman said Friday.

“Now that the state’s direct competition has extended their hours, it only makes sense for us at minimum to do the same, if not implement even longer service hours to remain competitive ... in this continually changing gaming market,” Lori Potter, the Mashantuckets’ director of communications, wrote in an email.

Potter noted that tribal officials have approached Connecticut lawmakers “on several occasions over the years” in regards to later alcohol service at Foxwoods as “an opportunity to increase state sales tax and slot revenue.”

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun pay 25 percent of their slot-machine winnings to the state.

“We have to stay competitive,” Potter said. “If other states are going to have more relaxed laws to serve alcohol later, we’re going to have to do the same.”

Alcohol service at the Connecticut casinos and at all other alcohol-serving establishments in the state is prohibited after 1 a.m. on weekdays and after 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Reacting to the news Thursday that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission approved two extra hours of alcohol service for active gamblers at MGM Springfield, a Mohegan tribal official indicated the Connecticut casinos would have to consider responding.

“It is certainly a discussion point we will raise at the appropriate time,” Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegans’ chief of staff, said Thursday.

The Mashantuckets and the Mohegans are partnering on an East Windsor casino that’s supposed to partially insulate the tribes’ respective southeastern Connecticut casinos from the impact of MGM Springfield. The tribes hope to open the East Windsor casino — about 12 miles from MGM Springfield — in the spring of 2020.

MGM Springfield is scheduled to open Aug. 24.

Several years ago, Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket chairman, suggested the state consider lowering the legal gambling age from 21 to 18 in addition to extending hours of alcohol service at casinos. More recently, Felix Rappaport, the Foxwoods chief executive who died unexpectedly this week, voiced support for extended hours of alcohol service.

Rappaport had worked in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, casino jurisdictions that allow 24-hour alcohol service. 

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission approved MGM Springfield’s request to serve gamblers until 4 a.m. over the objection of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, which represents more than 15,000 food and beverage locations in the Bay State.

In a letter to the commission, the association noted that alcohol served at MGM Springfield after 2 a.m. could be distributed free of charge.

“Free alcohol for patrons from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. should be a major concern for any government agency,” wrote Bob Luz, the association’s president.

In other testimony provided to the commission, Lindsey Tucker, associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, cited “scientific literature” linking extended hours of alcohol sales with “alcohol related harms for the general population” and evidence that such extended hours might lead to an increase in drunken driving.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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