Licensing laws: How much does the city need to know?

The city of Las Vegas treats applicants for privileged licenses as though they’re seeking national security clearance. Karen Duddlesten, the city’s business license director, made that clear last week when she presented responses from two applicants seeking beer and wine licenses. One 4-inch-thick binder, for a convenience store, would substitute nicely for a 15-pound dumbell.

Yes, the process is a costly burden on entrepreneurs. But it’s also costly to the public, who pay platoons of public employees and police to oversee and conduct lengthy application and licensing protocols that amount to regulatory overkill.

The privileged license process became an issue this summer, when downtown’s Heart Attack Grill sought a permanent tavern license. It was denied by the Las Vegas City Council because some of the restaurant’s investors had not undergone extensive financial background checks by police. (Zappos CEO and downtown champion Tony Hsieh is one of the eatery’s investors.) Then, earlier this month, the council reversed itself and granted the permanent license – and directed Ms. Duddlesten to review the application process and try to make it simpler.

“What we have been tasked with is looking at what are we asking for and do we truly need it as a base for filling out an application,” she said.

The irony here? Many of these applicants, who submit documentation of their entire professional, financial and residential history, never end up mixing a cocktail or selling a case of beer. They hire people, paid near minimum wage, to do that.

“It is difficult, it is time consuming, it is expensive, and it is really redundant,” Michael Cornthwaite, owner of the Downtown Cocktail Room, told the Review-Journal. “It is for a liquor license for a tavern or a restaurant. You are not selling nuclear arms.”

Indeed. Las Vegas is ever farther removed from the organized crime presence that once justified such exhaustive investigations. Should such high standards remain in place for gaming licenses? Fine. But for bars, which have been pummeled by the state’s smoking crackdown, rising minimum wage and the Great Recession? Existing rules are an impediment to job creation in a state with 12 percent official unemployment – and 22 percent real unemployment.

The council is being highly responsive and responsible here. Ms. Duddlesten believes a 75 percent reduction in paperwork is possible. Hallelujah. Now let’s see the council take a closer look at its Byzantine permit process. No strip of red tape should be spared.


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