Liquor Law Watch

This decision comes down from the Montana Supreme Court.

It concerns one bar’s effort to transfer its liquor license to a soon-to-be casino in Great Falls. Before issuing the license, Montana’s Department of Revenue (“DOR”) published a notice of the license application in the newspaper. Because a number of written protests were received by the DOR, it held a public hearing to determine whether the bar (“Hare’s Ear”) was qualified and whether the application satisfied the requirements for public convenience and necessity. Among the inquiries was whether “the welfare of the people residing in the vicinity of the premises will be adversely and seriously affected” if the liquor license issued.

The DOR held a hearing and approved the transfer, contrary to the wishes of the Citizens of Great Falls, Montana (“Protestors”), who appealed the DOR’s conclusion that transferring the liquor license to Hare’s Ear would not adversely or seriously affect the welfare of residents in the vicinity. The Protestors contended that the transfer of the liquor license, which would then lead to the issuance of gambling machine permits, would adversely and seriously affect the welfare of Gore Hill residents. The DOR, say the Protestors, misapprehended the evidence provided by the residents, a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, and medical doctor that gambling is bad for a community. In affirming the DOR’s decision, the supreme court held:
The Protestors’ arguments in opposition to the liquor license and gambling raise very broad policy-type concerns. They argue that gambling can be addictive and lead to criminal behavior for some individuals, gambling should not be legal, or gambling should be restricted to certain areas of Great Falls. As the Department indicated, these arguments are better left to the legislature, which has chosen to legalize gambling. The most specific objection to the Jackrabbit Red’s Casino was that, given its very busy, visible location, it would draw people in and the residents of Gore Hill, when driving by, would encounter dazed gamblers. Nonetheless, the Protestors failed to provide substantial evidence that demonstrated how Jackrabbit Red’s Casino, located at least a half mile from the nearest home, would adversely affect the residents in the vicinity.

Not having reviewed the record — much less the laws — of this case, I’m less than competent to comment. But hey, this is the blawgosphere. The decision seems correct; the standard of review, alone, gave the Protestors all they could handle. The Protestors concerns are real to them, and possibly real to all. Those concerns, however, are, as the supreme court stated, “broad policy-type concerns.” Presumably the State of Montana’s legislature weighed these and other concerns when passing the statutes (which enable the DOR’s regulations), and it chose to allow liquor to be served (and casinos to operate) in Hare’s Ear’s zone. End of story.

If doubt remains, consider the structure of the laws in question. In Montana, before a business may qualify for a gambling license, it must first secure a liquor license. Compare that with the national, preferred method for crippling unwanted strip clubs: banning liquor sales. The idea is that strip clubs (nightclubs) will have trouble making money without alcohol sales. Which is true. But back to Montana. If the legislature is using the strictures of the liquor laws to limit where casinos may locate, so be it. The question of whether the two vices (liquor and gambling) may co-exist, however, has been answered by Montana.
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