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Losing a Liquor License

The information in this article is meant to be educational in nature and not intended to be used for legal purposes. When seeking legal advice, consult an attorney. The information here comes from the various state websites regarding the state organizations that control the distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages. A listing of these state organizations can be found at the United States Department of Treasury’s site. Interested readers can also go to their state website for detailed information regarding the sale, purchase, and regulation of alcoholic beverages according to their state laws.

Liquor Licensing Laws

No matter what state an individual lives in, any business that legally sells alcoholic beverages must obtain a license to sell these beverages from the state. Obtaining a liquor license is not a simple process, and there are strict rules and regulations that need to be followed in every state once a license is secured. The rules and regulations can vary from state to state, even from city to city, but there are several ways a business, such as a bar or restaurant, can lose its liquor license that are common to every state.

Selling Alcoholic Beverages to Minors or Not Checking ID

Perhaps the surest way to lose a liquor license is for the establishment to sell alcohol to individuals under the age of 21. The legal age to drink alcohol is 21 in all states. Establishments that do not check the identification of individuals who appear to 30 or younger are at risk for losing their liquor license. In addition, actually selling alcohol to an individual under the age of 21 is a sure way for a business to lose its liquor license. Some states may even encourage servers or bartenders to ask the individual questions if it is suspected that the person’s identification may be falsified or that the ID belongs to another person. The risk is all on the establishment that serves the minor. Businesses that serve minors who go on to injure someone, cause property damage, or result in a death while they are intoxicated will most assuredly lose their liquor license.

Even though the legal drinking age is 21, in some states, individuals do not have to be 21 years old to serve alcoholic beverages. Check with specific state laws regarding the legal age to serve alcoholic beverages.

Continuing to Serve an Intoxicated Person

Many states seriously frown upon restaurants and bars that knowingly serve alcohol to individuals who are visibly intoxicated. In many states, if the person gets into an accident or causes an injury, the establishment may be held liable.

In many states, serving alcohol to an intoxicated individual who goes on to cause personal injury, property damage, or even death is almost a sure way for the establishment to lose its liquor license. Bartender training programs and state-sponsored training programs for individuals who serve alcoholic beverages often include training in how to spot an intoxicated person and how to stop serving them without making the person belligerent.

Untrained Servers

Most states have programs, such as SmartServe programs, that require employees of the business who serve alcoholic beverages to complete some form of specialized training and receive certification. When staff members are caught serving alcohol without the state-required certification, the business may lose its alcohol license.

Unlawful Practices on the Premises

Restaurants or bars that engage in unlawful practices, such as illegal gambling, encouraging violence, etc., may lose their license. If a particular venue has a significant incidence of aggression and violence, this may be a clue that many of the patrons are being served too much alcohol or being served alcohol when they are obviously intoxicated. In instances where a business continues to serve alcohol to these individuals or engages in illegal practices, there is potential that their license will be revoked.

Selling Alcoholic Beverages at Unauthorized Times

Many liquor licenses specify the specific times during which alcohol may be sold in the establishment. In many states, the sale of alcohol after 2 a.m. is illegal. An establishment caught selling alcohol after this time will most likely face sanctions that can include the loss of their license.

In addition, many states have restrictions regarding how long customers may stay in the establishment. In some states, customers must leave a restaurant by 2:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. and must leave a bar by a specific time after legal drinking hours have expired. Any establishment that has patrons in the building after these times can be penalized, and may lose their license.

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Selling Alcoholic Beverages in Unauthorized Places

Even though an establishment has a liquor license and can legally sell alcohol, there are certain areas within the establishment where alcohol cannot be sold. For example, someone selling alcoholic beverages in the restroom would most likely be violating the state statutes regarding the sale of alcohol in the establishment. Selling alcohol in the parking lot, unless authorized, is another example of selling alcohol in an unauthorized place. It is very possible that if an establishment continually sells alcohol in unauthorized places, it can lose its license.

Some Specific Regulations by State

There can be quite a bit of variance in the legal sale of alcohol between states. Though legal alcohol sales are generally governed by the state, even in states where the sale of alcohol is allowed, there may be “dry counties.” These differing state and local restrictions can lead to unaware business owners losing their liquor licenses. Some of the more common variations are outlined below.

  • Alabama: With a very few exceptions, the sale of alcohol is illegal between 12 p.m. and 12 a.m. on Sunday. The consumption of alcohol is legal in the state, but there are at least 26 dry counties where alcohol sales are prohibited.
  • Arizona: Arizona has some of the strictest DUI laws in the country. These strict DUI laws can lead to sanctions against businesses that knowingly sold alcohol to an intoxicated person who got into an accident causing physical or property damage.
  • Arkansas: Arkansas generally prohibits alcohol sales on Sundays (there are a few local exceptions), and alcohol is not allowed to be sold on Christmas.
  • Florida: The sale of alcohol is prohibited between 12 a.m. and 7 a.m. except in specific counties.
  • Illinois: Illinois allows counties to enforce the sale of alcohol. Some counties have 24-hour bars in them, whereas other counties may have stricter restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages.
  • Kansas: Liquor sales in the state of Kansas vary depending on the county. There are nearly 30 dry counties in the state and fewer than 20 counties that allow on-premises sales of alcohol.
  • Kentucky: Like the state of Kansas, Kentucky has numerous dry counties interspersed with counties where alcohol sales are allowed.
  • Louisiana: Louisiana has an interesting situation where drive-through sales of alcoholic drinks are allowed, but it is illegal to drive with an open container that contains a straw in it.
  • Nebraska: In Nebraska, the sale of alcoholic beverages is restricted before noon on Sundays.
  • Nevada: As might be expected, Nevada has very lax laws regarding the sale of alcohol. Many counties allow 24-hour sales.
  • New York: Surprisingly, there are over 10 dry cities in the state of New York.
  • Tennessee: Sales of alcoholic beverages (wine and liquor) are limited to on-premises sales, such as in restaurants, on Sunday.
  • Texas: As of the latest estimate, there are 11 dry counties in Texas. If an establishment serves alcohol between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Sunday, the drinks must be served with food.
  • Utah: Bars can serve liquor from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.; restaurants must buy alcohol from state-controlled stores and must serve it with food.
  • West Virginia: Sales of beer and wine are allowed Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 2 a.m. The sale of liquor is allowed from Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to midnight. Sunday sales of liquor are prohibited.

As can be observed by the above sampling of less than 25 percent of all states in the United States, legal sales of alcoholic beverages are regulated differently in each state, and within each state, there can be variations regarding the time that alcohol can be legally sold or if alcohol can be legally sold at all. The burden is on the establishment.

Violating Liquor License Rules

Establishments are expected to know the specific regulations that apply in their area and expected to abide by them. Violations of the regulations of the state or county can be met with numerous potential sanctions, including the loss of one’s liquor license.

The loss of a liquor license may not always be permanent. Businesses may be allowed to have their license reinstated after certain conditions have been met; however, in instances where businesses are knowingly selling alcohol to minors or to intoxicated persons who cause physical harm or property damage, the loss of a license may be permanent.