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Las Vegas council bans glass, aluminum liquor containers at Fremont Street Experience

The Las Vegas City Council unanimously approved a watered-down liquor ordinance Wednesday that bans liquor in open glass and aluminum containers on the Fremont Street Experience.

The plastic- or paper-only zone was reduced in size from an earlier version that covered 32 blocks downtown.

The ordinance, which takes effect Sunday, puts more of an onus on owners of packaged liquor stores and their employees. But it also eliminated language that the customer who opens a bottle of beer or other liquor on the mall could be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Other changes to liquor ordinances will be introduced at a later date, and penalties for customers could be reintroduced. There are concerns that tourists will not return downtown if they are prosecuted for opening a can of beer on Fremont Street.

The first ordinance the council passed to restrict package liquor sales on Fremont Street is already being challenged in federal court, so City Attorney Brad Jerbic stripped various elements from the second bill, streamlining it in hopes it will pass muster with the courts if it is challenged.

Wednesday’s bill came down harder on owners of souvenir shops which, as Councilman Ricki Barlow said, have turned into “full-fledged liquor stores.”

When the souvenir stores first obtained licenses to sell packaged liquor, liquor was supposed to be ancillary and they were limited to using no more than 10 percent of their floor space for alcohol. Owners have since said about 90 percent of their business is from liquor.

Jerbic said the bill increases a civil penalty from $250 to $500 for a first-time offense, gives the city’s planning director more power to suspend liquor licenses, and makes it a possible for an owner to be held guilty of a misdemeanor for allowing employees to violate license conditions.

A video was shown dated May 14 showing packaged liquor store employees advising customers they could buy packaged liquor and open it and drink it outside on the mall. That is illegal since the current law forbids customers from opening their liquor inside the store or within 1,000 feet of the store.

“There’s no more glass, no more aluminum and nobody is allowed to open packaged liquor (on the mall) no matter where it comes from,” Jerbic explained.

Previously, such bans were made on holidays such as New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July as a matter of safety. Now it’s every day.

Packaged liquor has to be put in a closed bag, and Mayor Carolyn Goodman was insistent liquor must be put in a liquor only bag with a receipt attached, to prohibit someone from opening a liquor bag to reach in and grab something else. That language is expected to be introduced in a future liquor ordinance.

Jerbic described his ordinance as “a prudent first step.”

“We have been watching packaged liquor stores a long time, and there seems to be almost an inability to control packaged liquor,” he said.

The Fremont Street Experience and several hotel-casinos supported the ordinance. Opposition came from the lawyer from ABC Stores, which is suing the city over the first ordinance.

The lawsuit said the ordinance, which passed May 21, set up a regulatory scheme that violates the stores’ constitutional rights to equal protection, due process and free speech.

“The heavy regulation on one class of licensees — package liquor license holders on the Fremont Street Experience, compared with the virtually nonexistent or even relaxed regulation on holders of other types of licenses — such as the Fremont Street casinos — demonstrates that the classification drawn by the liquor regulatory scheme cannot be rationally related to any legitimate government interest,” the complaint alleged.

Packaged liquor sales are not allowed on Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Times Square in New York City. But the Fremont Street Experience has six souvenir stores where customers would be allowed to buy packaged liquor and take it to their hotel rooms.

What has occurred is that tourists and locals have turned to the souvenir stores to buy cheaper liquor than the drinks sold by casinos.

Contact Jane Ann Morrison at jmorrison@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275.

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