Massachusetts Casinos at ‘Disadvantage’ if Guests Banned from Carrying Drinks Throughout Gaming Floor

Posted on: July 2, 2020, 08:56h. 

Last updated on: July 2, 2020, 02:41h.

A new Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) guideline stating that players cannot move about the gaming floor with beverages in their hands is going to be hard to enforce once the state’s gaming properties reopen, according to a gambling expert.

drinks at Massachusetts casinos
Seth Stratton, vice president and general counsel of MGM Springfield, wants to see more flexibility from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on a guideline covering the carrying of drinks by players on the casino floor. (Image: MGM)

The Rev. Richard McGowan, a finance professor at Boston College who closely follows gaming trends in New England, said the rule “could be hard to enforce, especially if patrons don’t think it is necessary.

It might be a bit much by the MGC, but they make the rules. However, if other states do not have this requirement, it will certainly put Massachusetts casinos at a disadvantage,” McGowan told

Casinos and other businesses categorized as part of the state’s Phase Three reopening plan remain closed. It is possible Phase Three businesses could reopen as early as Monday, July 6. But no formal reopening date was announced as of early Thursday.

When asked if the new rule about carrying drinks at casinos even makes sense, McGowan said, “It makes sense with trying to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.” To reduce the transmission of coronavirus, the state’s three casinos have been shuttered for months.

“A person drinking something is more prone to spread the virus,” McGowan explained. “They [patrons] will need to take their masks [off] to drink.”

As a result of the drinking guideline, he predicts the state’s casinos will have to start providing more spaces on the casino floor for drinking. “That does not help the amount of gambling,” McGowan added.

When discussing the issue last month, several MGC commissioners warned if guests could walk throughout the gaming floor carrying a drink, that would lead to a setting which would resemble a bar. But Massachusetts bars cannot reopen until Phase Four.

At least one casino official said his company will make its best efforts to enforce any MGC requirement. Seth Stratton, vice president and general counsel of MGM Springfield, also told the commissioners at a recent meeting he understands the concern about patrons walking around drinking drinks with their masks down. But there is a distinction.

“Walking around with a drink, that’s a bit more challenging for us, and harder to understand the public health concern of someone with a mask on carrying their drink from one position to another without consuming that drink,” Stratton told the commissioners at the June 23 meeting.

Obviously, there is significant time between when you can get served a drink and [when you can] find a cocktail server to serve another,” Stratton added, noting it could be 20 minutes or more before a server comes around with another drink for players. “Patrons view those not as free drinks but something they’ve earned.”

Stratton also would like flexibility from the MGC so guests would keep masks on, but still carry a drink from one gaming spot to another gaming spot on the casino floor. That would lead to “less risk” and resembles what MGM is seeing in other jurisdictions where company casinos are located, Stratton added.

MGC Commissioner Wants Flexibility

“What we want is people to be wearing masks when they’re walking around, whether they’re having a drink, or bringing their keys with them, or their pocketbooks,” Commissioner Enrique Zuniga said at the June 23 MGC meeting. “The idea is not to have people loitering, drinking, and walking around.”

Zuniga said it is fine if someone takes their drink with them when enjoying gaming at a different spot on the floor. “When it comes to enforcement, it would be ‘Sir, put on your mask’ — not ‘Sir, leave that drink,’” he said. “Because it is the mask that we are most interested in.”

When discussing the drink guideline, several MGC commissioners warn they do not want patrons to guzzle a drink because a player may want to move to another spot on the gaming floor. Instead, players should drink the beverage at a normal rate.

Though the MGC is now scrutinizing player activity when it comes to drinks, last month Zuniga led commission efforts to ensure security officers are patient with customers, especially given the events surrounding the death of George Floyd. That means using methods to diffuse situations rather than have confrontations, he suggested.

Games Limited When Massachusetts Casinos Reopen

The MGC has announced several other guidelines when casinos reopen, such as no playing of poker, craps, or roulette. Players also will see plexiglass dividers at blackjack tables when casinos resume operations.

In May, the state’s three commercial casinos — the Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park Casino — sent their preliminary reopening plans to commission staff.