The Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission
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ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES LICENSE GENERAL INFORMATION

Alcoholic beverages retail licenses are distinguished by where a patron may consume the beverages purchased, i.e. off the premises or the on premises. Off-premises licenses include package stores, convenience stores and supermarkets. There are 5 types of on-premises alcoholic beverages licenses: restaurants, clubs (or veterans club), hotels, taverns, and general on premises.

Retail alcoholic beverages licenses fall into five categories: all alcoholic beverages licenses, wine and malt beverages licenses, wine beverages licenses, malt beverage licenses, and wine and malt with cordials and liqueurs beverages licenses. These licenses may be issued seasonally or annually.

eLicensing FAQs

User Guides

The following user guides are intended to help navigate the initial steps for licensees in the ePLACE portal.

NEW APPLICANTS

If you are applying for a new license and do not currently hold a license with the ABCC, please refer to the following user guides for assistance.

EXISTING APPLICANTS

If you are applying for a new license or amending an existing license and are a current license holder with the ABCC, please refer to the following user guides for assistance.

 

Licensing Procedure

The first step in the licensing process is the granting of an application by the Local Licensing Authorities (the “LLA”). The second step is approval by the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (the “ABCC”). If the ABCC approves the license, the LLA issues the license. An applicant for an alcoholic beverages license may not operate a licensed premise until the LLA issues a license. If the application is for a transfer of the license, the licensee is still liable and responsible for the operation of the premises until the license transfer is approved. Moreover, an applicant who operates licensed premises before final approval of a transfer by both the LLA and the ABCC may create serious ramifications for both the buyer and the seller. Operation without a license may be considered evidence of that applicant’s unfitness for a license. It may also lead to revocation of an existing license. In certain circumstances, it opens both the buyer and the seller to possible criminal liability.

Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 138, §15A and 16B, LLA's and the ABCC are required to follow the procedures outlined below each time an application for the sale of alcoholic beverages is filed.

1. The LLA must note the date and hour an application for an alcoholic beverages license is filed.
2. The LLA must publish an advertisement, if their regulations require, within 10 days of the application being filed.
3. A hearing on the application shall not be held sooner than ten (10) days after advertising the hearing.
4. The LLA must act on an application within thirty (30) days after it is filed.
5. If the LLA grants the license, the application shall be forwarded to the ABCC no later than three (3) days following such approval.
6. When the ABCC receives an application that has been approved by the LLA, an investigator will be assigned. The investigator will investigate the proposed licensed premises, as well as the proposed applicant and the source(s) of financing for the transaction. Parties to an application must respond promptly to investigators’ inquiries. Failure to do so will result in a delay of the approval and may result in a denial of the application.
7. When the ABCC receives the application it is immediately forwarded to the Department of Revenue (“DOR”) and the Division of Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”). Both agencies will research the issue of any outstanding tax obligations of both the buyer and the seller for all types of taxes, including sales, meals, withholding, corporate excise, room occupancy, personal income taxes, unemployment insurance, and employer fair share contributions. The ABCC will not approve a license transfer until DOR and DUA attest that the parties have no outstanding tax liabilities to the Commonwealth. The parties are responsible for resolving all tax questions.
8. Once the LLA receives the ABCC’s approval of an application, it must issue the license within seven (7) days.

More FAQs about Retail Licenses

Quota System

The Massachusetts Liquor Control Act places a quota or limit on the number of alcoholic beverages licenses a city or town can issue. The quota is based on the population of the community as determined by the most recent federal census.

On-Premises License (M.G.L. c. 138, §12)
Each city or town may grant one on-premises all alcoholic license for each unit of 1,000 persons (or fraction thereof) with a minimum of 14. An additional all-alcoholic beverages license may be granted for each population unit of 10,000 (or fraction thereof) over the first 25,000. One wine and malt license may be granted for each unit of 5,000 persons (or fraction thereof) with a minimum of 5.

Veteran's Club License
The local licensing authority may grant an all-alcoholic beverages license, outside the quota system, subject to ABCC approval, to any corporation whose members are war veterans which owns, hires or leases a building, or space in a building, for the use and accommodation of a post of any war veterans' organization incorporated by the Congress of the United States, to sell to members of that post only, and, subject to local licensing authorities, to guests introduced by such members and to no others.

Off-Premises (M.G.L. c. 138, §15)
Each city or town may issue one off-premises (Section 15) all-alcoholic beverages license for each unit of 5,000 persons (or fraction thereof) with a minimum of 2. One wine and malt license may be granted for each unit of 5,000 persons (or fraction thereof) with a minimum of 5.

Seasonal Licenses
The LLA may issue as many seasonal on-premises alcoholic beverages licenses as it deems to be in the public interest that are effective April 1st to January 15th or any portion thereof.

The LLA may issue a limited number of seasonal off-premises alcoholic beverages licenses based on an estimate of the temporary increase in resident population for the upcoming season as of July 10th. The LLA must set the estimate before March 1st of the calendar year, at a special meeting described in detail by M.G.L. c. 138, §17. The LLA must submit the estimate to the Commission prior to April 1st.

The LLA may issue off-premises seasonal licenses based on that estimate at the rate of one license for each 5,000 persons (or fraction thereof) and can be issued effective April 1st to November 30th until January 15th, or any portion thereof, as set by the LLA. Franklin and Berkshire counties may issue winter seasonal licenses and estimate before October 15th the temporary increased resident population as of the following February 10th. Such licenses are effective from December 1st to April 1st.

State Licensing FAQs

Unlike Retail Licenses, State Licenses are issued directly by the ABCC. Types of State Licenses include (but are not limited to) Wholesalers, Manufacturers, Farmer Series Licenses, Transportation Permits, Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Ships, etc.

For the most frequently asked questions about State Licenses, please click here.

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Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission