Happy hour may return

Friday October 14, 2011

Banned by the state in 1984, "Happy Hour" could be making a comeback.

Rolled into the Senate version of the bill authorizing the construction of three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor is an amendment that opens the door to the return of hourly drink specials to bars across the state.

Local owners and managers brightened at the prospect.

"It would boost sales and people need to be able to take a breather for a cold beer after a long, hard day at work," said Robert Schettini, the general manager of Fresco's in Pittsfield.

Mischell Kruger, the owner of Friend's Grill in Pittsfield, said happy hour, usually offered between 4 and 7 in the afternoon, is a good way to drive in business during otherwise slow hours.

She thinks the regulations governing her bar's specials are too strict.

Under current laws, bars must run drink specials for a minimum of a week and they must be offered at all hours.

The amendment included in the Senate's casino gambling bill gives bars and restaurants the same ability as casinos to offer free or discounted drinks to gambling patrons.

Vincent A.J. Errichetti, executive director of the Restaurant and Business Alliance, which supports the amendment, stressed that the language in the bill doesn't necessarily mean anything will change.

He said it's yet to be decided what kind of serving regulations will be imposed on casinos and that the bill only ensures fair treatment for existing bars and restaurants.

Still, the amendment is widely understood by lawmakers as a near guarantee that happy hour drink specials will return.

State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said he voted for the amendment, but with reservations.

"In my ideal world, we would not have those drink specials in casinos or restaurants, but as a matter of fairness, I think we'd be putting existing businesses at a disadvantage if we're not allowing them to play on a level field," he said.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving released a statement saying they're not against the change.

Generally, as long as establishments are serving alcohol to people who are of age and in a responsible fashion, we wouldn't be opposed to it," said MADD spokesman David DeIulis.


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