This post is by Janet Forgrieve, a contributing editor to Restaurant SmartBrief. Policy Matters is a weekly column that rounds up the latest state, federal and international policy news that affects the restaurant industry.
Feeding quarters into a slot machine and betting on blackjack can prove thirsty work, a condition casinos in established gambling towns such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City learned to slake long ago with free drinks delivered by roaming cocktail servers. As a growing number of states approve measures to add casino gambling, that tradition is getting lost in the translation. In some Midwestern states, including Ohio where voters approved the addition of casino gambling last fall, complimentary cocktails won’t be part of the package.
Four other states — Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kansas — also prohibit the serving of free drinks, while nine states allow the practice. The Ohio law, which also cuts off liquor sales at 2:30 a.m., found support from the Ohio Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which took a moral position that stressed “Midwestern values.” Meanwhile, the state’s bar and restaurant owners also supported the prohibition on freebie cocktails, strictly for business reasons. “We were concerned it would create an uneven playing field,” said Ohio Restaurant Association spokesman Jarrod Clabaugh. “Free drinks improve the odds of people not leaving the casinos to go out, enjoy the community and dine at our members.”
Nevada voters overwhelmingly approved a ban that would outlaw smoking in the state’s restaurants in 2006. Now, the state’s Board of Health may revisit the issue and possibly relax the rules to once again allow smokers to light up in restaurants where they’re segregated by a wall and a separate ventilation system. Opposition from anti-smoking groups led the board to postpone a vote on the measure last week, and the group now plans to hold workshops to further study the issue this summer.
Wisconsin will be the 28th state to prohibit smoking in indoor public spaces on July 5. As the deadline looms, several restaurant and bar owners in the town of Beloit are seeking permits to build or expand outdoor areas that would allow guests to enjoy summer and would also offer smokers a small section of patio on which to indulge their tobacco habits. The law also provides for a less seasonal solution. Smoking would be permitted in separate indoor rooms in which 25% or more of the walls are windows -– windows that open, of course.
New York City patrons may soon need to sip more quickly when enjoying a cocktail and a breeze on their favorite rooftop bar. A bill introduced by state Assemblywoman Joan L. Millman would require rooftop bars on buildings of less than 10 stories, and backyard bars within 500 feet of residential areas, to call “last call” in time for an 11 p.m. closing on Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. the rest of the week. The proposed law, which would only apply to cities of 1 million people or more, was spurred by complaints from Millman’s Brooklyn constituents who say they’re annoyed by noisy bar patrons late at night. The proposal would also require establishments with outdoor areas to acquire permits certifying that the bar has waiter service and that amplified music won’t be played. Some restaurant owners say they’ve already agreed to compromises to keep neighbors happy, including closing outdoor seating hours earlier than current permits allow.
Michigan cities have a state-imposed quota system on liquor licenses, which are doled out based on population. Technically the quota system means that new operators need not apply once the maximum number of permits has been granted. Except for businesses opening in state-approved economic development districts, which can apply for special permits designed to stem deterioration of the city’s economy.
In other words, too many bars are a bad thing –- except when they’re good for the tax coffers.