Entertainment Licensing

The Mayor's Office of Consumer Affairs and Licensing (or "Licensing Division") is the entertainment licensing authority for the City of Boston. It issues and regulates all entertainment licenses in Boston granted pursuant to M.G.L. Chapter 140, 177A, 181, and 183A.

Circumstances requiring an Entertainment License

You will need to obtain an entertainment license under the following circumstances:

  1. Entertainment Licenses under M.G.L. c.140 183A: You will need this license if you are a holder of a Common Victualler or Alcohol License, and feature any kind of "concert, dance exhibition, cabaret, or public show of any description A "public show of any description" would include dancing by patrons or performers, recorded or live music, use of an amplification system, a theatrical play or exhibition, a film, a floor show or light show of any description, or any other kind of dynamic audio or visual show, whether live or recorded.". M.G.L. c. 140 183A.

  2. Entertainment Licenses under M.G.L. c. 140 181: You will need this license if you offer "theatrical exhibitions, public shows, public amusements and exhibitions of every description" and you charge an admission fee, or if "after free admission, amusement is furnished upon a deposit of money in a coin controlled apparatus" M.G.L. c. 140 181.

  3. Entertainment Licenses under M.G.L. c.140 177A: You will need this license if you offer an "automatic amusement device", which is a coin-operated amusement skill game such as a pinball machine or video game.

If you have any questions as to when an entertainment license is required, call our office at (617) 635-4165 or visit us at Boston City Hall, Room 817.

The application process

Applications for entertainment licenses may be obtained at Boston City Hall, Room 817, or online.

A person filing an application for an entertainment license must complete the application and file it with the Licensing Division. They may be also be required to file other documentation along with the application. For example, most venues must file an Inspection Certificate and Fire Assembly Permit before a license is granted showing that the venue is safe for the public, and how many persons may enter at a given time. In addition, applicants are often required to file a Certificate of Use and Occupancy, corporate papers, a deed or lease to the venue, and other permits necessary to their operation. When an applicant obtains an application from the Licensing Division, they are told which specific documents they will need to obtain, and where they need to go to get them.

Applications will be granted unless the Licensing Division finds that allowing the application would violate the Division's Regulatory Standards. The Licensing Standards require the Division to assess the application relative to whether granting the license

  1. would lead to or cause an offense under any applicable law, code, ordinance, or regulation; or

  2. would lead to the creation of a nuisance or otherwise endanger the public health, safety, or order by

  • unreasonably increasing pedestrian or vehicular traffic in the area in which the premises is located; or

  • increasing the incidence of illegal or disruptive conduct in the area in which the premises is located; or

  • unreasonably increasing the level of noise in the area in which the premises is located.

The full text of the Division's Regulatory Standards may be seen here, or may be obtained via contacting the Division.

The Licensing Division may decide to hold a hearing on an application. All of the Licensing Division's hearings are open to the public. A copy of the Licensing Division's hearing schedule may be obtained at Boston City Hall, Room 817, or by calling (617)635-4165.

The Licensing Division may elect to place certain conditions on an entertainment license before issuing it. Licensees are, of course, required to adhere to all conditions placed on their license. The Division also issues regulations that all licenses must adhere to. For a copy of the regulations, (web site) or contact the Division.

Violations

The Licensing Division may find an existing licensee in violation of their entertainment license. This is done if the Licensing Division finds after a hearing that conditions exist which would have justified the denial of the license.

After a finding that a licensee is in violation, the licensee may be issued a warning, placed on probation, receive a suspension of their license, or receive some other disciplinary sanction, including in some instances a revocation of their entertainment license.

Hearings on the question of whether the licensee is in violation typically are held on police reports that the Licensing Division obtains about a particular licensee. Some examples of a license violation are: overcrowding, offering entertainment beyond allowed hours, a disruptive incident on the premises, or illegal drugs on the premises.

A decision issued by the Licensing Division which finds a licensee in violation may be appealed to Superior Court.

Questions that the Licensing Division has regarding a license violation are, as in the case of license applications, governed via the Licensing Divisions Regulatory Standards. The full text of the Division's Regulatory Standards may be seen at (web site), or may be obtained via contacting the Division.

Public events

Any event that is open to the public, such as a carnival, festival, fair, or other outdoor event at which the public will gather, is considered a public event. Persons or parties seeking to hold public events must go through the public event application process, described below.

STEP 1. Complete and file a Public Event Application: Applications may be obtained at The Office of Special Events & Tourism, Room 802, Boston City Hall, or The Mayor's Office of Consumer Affairs and Licensing, Room 817, Boston City Hall. Applications are also available through the following link: (web link).

When filing an application, include:

  1. copies of any contracts for sound, stage, cleaning, security, catering or food services;

  2. written proof of permission from the owner of the property where the event will take place.


Completed applications are submitted to the Special Events Committee, located in the Office of Special Events & Tourism, Room 802, Boston City Hall (635-3911). Please allow at least 30 days for large events or 14 days for smaller events.

STEP 2. Meet with the Special Events Committee: At the Committee, event organizers have the opportunity to meet with the various City departments from which they will be required to obtain approval from to hold the event. The Committee will determine if the event is feasible, and will indicate to the applicant what agency approvals are still required. It is important to keep in mind that event organizers are responsible for applying for and obtaining all the individual permits and certificates from the various City departments needed for an event; merely filing the Public Events Application does not satisfy this obligation. For example, public events typically require the following approvals:

  1. Police: you will be required to obtain the approval of the local police captain.

  2. Inspectional Service Department, Health Division, 1010 Mass. Ave, (635-5300). If you intend to serve food, you will need to obtain a Temporary Food Permit. The organization overseeing the event is responsible for obtaining the permits for each vendor, and for providing an individual trained in food sanitation to oversee the proper storage, display, preparation, temperature logs, and service of food to the public.

  3. Inspectional Service Dept., Building Division, 1010 Mass. Ave. (635-5300). If you plan to use a tent, stage, lighting, electrical wiring, signs floats, propane tanks, gas/electric generator, you will need a Temporary Building Permit.

  4. Fire Department: If you intend to have open flame cooking, tents that exceed 10 feet x 10 feet, and/or pyrotechnic displays a Temporary Fire Permit is required. This applies to use of propane, charcoal, gasoline and or any other fuel. Each vendor utilizing the above is required to have a fire extinguisher on site. Each approved site is allowed one 20 lb. propane tank. Spare tanks are not allowed. According to state law, individual vendors must be 10 feet apart.


STEP 3: Final Approval: After you have secured all yor permits, submit the complete application and copies of the permits to: The Mayor's Office of Consumer and Licensing, Room 817, Boston City Hall (635-4165). Should your event require an entertainment license, you will also have needed to apply for that and will receive it after the completed application is filed and approved.

Additional points:

  1. Any event should make efforts at minimizing neighborhood impact such as ending at a reasonable hour, limiting noise, and conducting outreach and obtaining approval from residents or the local community and civic groups.

  2. Any outstanding bills from previous events must be paid in full prior to applying for a new event.

  3. Each organization is responsible for cleaning up before and after the event and for any damage to public property. The City will charge the sponsor for any damage and may deny future permits.

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