Lifting Liquor License Caps in Massachusetts

Liquor License Cap in MassachusettsMassachusetts Governor Deval Patrick wants to take the state Legislature out of the liquor license equation and lift liquor license caps in Massachusetts.

On one hand, his proposal seems like a more effective use of the Legislature’s time which is ultimately a use of tax-payer dollars. As it stands now, a formula based on a city’s or town’s population number is used to determine the maximum number of liquor licenses that can be issued. If a particular city wants to issue an additional license, the Legislature has to pass a separate piece of legislation for each additional license.

According to Boston.comGov. Patrick Pushing to Lift Liquor License Cap”, there have been 18 such bills approved in the last year. The article includes his statement to WGBH-FM: “What we are saying is you ought not to have to come — if you’re Lowell or any other city or town — to the Statehouse and get legislation passed to get one more liquor license. That decision ought to be made locally.’’

The Other Side of the Argument

Although giving local governments complete control in deciding how many liquor licenses they want in their neighborhoods would certainly alleviate bottlenecks at the state level, lifting the liquor license cap can have a number of unintended and negative consequences.

Those in favor of lifting the ban are standing on an economic development platform. However, adding liquor licenses doesn’t automatically spur economic development. There are several pieces of the economic development puzzle that must all be in place for success, and two important ones include access to transportation and staffing. Adding more restaurants with liquor licenses does nothing if patrons can’t get there or if there is no wait staff once they walk through the door.

It’s a balancing act, and we have to keep in mind that the dollars that can be spent in restaurants and pubs are somewhat finite, especially as we’re still recovering from the Great Recession. Patrons only have so much money to spend on dining out, and that amount won’t increase simply because there may be more choices with an influx of additional liquor licenses.

In full disclosure, because of our business model, Atlantic License Brokers would be impacted by a change to the liquor license quota system in Massachusetts; however, the negative impact reaches much further than our office, and we’ll explore that in our blog in the coming days and weeks.