Showdown on package liquor sales delayed

A showdown over applications for new package liquor sales on Fremont Street was delayed Wednesday when the applicants agreed to postpone the issue until November.

Instead, the applicants will participate in a working group organized by the city that also will include casinos and others who want to block new applications.

The applications have become a political football in the broader debate over safety and security on Fremont Street, where casino owners blame package liquor sales for what they say is an uptick in safety and security worries.

The people applying to add more liquor to store shelves in the area say if Fremont Street has a liquor problem, bars and casinos that move massive quantities of booze bear some blame.

“I think that the council and staff probably thought it was a good idea we sit down and meet with the hotels and work something out before we all go to war,” said Jay Brown, an attorney for two of four of the applications that were postponed.

Terry Murphy, president of the Downtown Alliance business group and a lobbyist on behalf of the Fremont Street Experience and some member casinos, said the delay gives the city a chance to learn more about problems she attributes to package liquor sales.

“We viewed this more as a policy issue,” Murphy said. “Our top priority right now for this year and next is public safety, and we view this as an impediment of public safety.”

According to city code, drinking alcohol on public sidewalks, including those on Fremont Street, is legal for consumers provided the beverage came from a licensed tavern or casino.

But it is illegal to open a container of alcohol in a public space within 1,000 feet of a package liquor store, a restriction that applies to nearly all of Fremont Street.

Casino owners complain the stores take advantage of the public’s ignorance of the law and sell much of their product to people who walk out the door and open it on the sidewalk.

City attorney Brad Jerbic said the city will attempt to resolve the differences by coordinating meetings with package liquor sellers, casino operators, police and others by coordinating a series of meetings on the issue before the applications come back to the council.

While people have complained about other problems along Fremont Street in recent months, including underage drinking, fights and unmanageable crowds spilling into the street, Jerbic said the working group will stick to the package liquor issue.