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Wyo Towns Upset Over Lack Of Liquor Licenses; Mayors Want Capitalism, Not Big Government

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By Jimmy Orr and Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s system restricting the number of liquor licenses that can be awarded in the state’s cities is limiting economic growth, according to the mayors of two cities currently involved in deciding how to award one new license.

City councils in Sheridan and Cheyenne have both been reviewing 11 applications for one retail liquor license — the kind given to bars and package liquor stores — available in each community.

Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins told Cowboy State Daily he is frustrated over the liquor license disbursement process, as it stunts economic growth and investment in the city.

The companies that applied for the liquor license in Cheyenne, he said, are backed by business owners who want to make significant investments in the community, but who could be thwarted in those efforts because government is in the business of deciding which investor gets to receive the license.

“We believe in competition and people working hard and that competition makes us sharper and improves customer service,” he said. “So we need to let people compete.”

Several Types Of Licenses

Wyoming has several types of liquor licenses. Retail licenses are those most often sought by bars that may also want to sell liquor on a retail basis. The state also has bar and grill licenses granted to businesses that serve food from a restaurant and alcohol from an attached bar or lounge and a restaurant license granted to restaurants that wish to serve alcohol without an attached bar or lounge.

Retail liquor licenses are awarded based on population and one new license became available in Cheyenne and Sheridan with the release of new population numbers from the 2020 U.S. Census.

But Collins said it doesn’t make sense that government would limit the number of liquor licenses available when they are critical to economic development and growth for any community. He noted no such restrictions are placed on other businesses, such as accounting or legal firms.

“We don’t limit anything really except for whatever reason, alcohol,” he said. “I don’t get it.”

More Available

Sheridan Mayor Rich Bridger agreed with Collins, adding that he would be interested in seeing not only more licenses available, but also in allowing businesses to receive a liquor license on a “first come, first serve” basis, instead of having a city council to choose from a pool of applicants.

“Those amenities draw people in, especially during tourist season,” Bridger told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “They tend to stay longer. They tend to eat in our establishments. I see value in having potentially more available.”

In Cheyenne, the limit is hampering plans to restore old buildings in the community and use them for new purposes, Collins said.

He pointed specifically to plans to turn a 110-year-old grain elevator into a gathering spot where different food trucks would serve patrons meals from constantly changing menus, with alcoholic drinks provided by a bar and package liquor store.

“This would give other small businesses, the food truck owners, a different way to show off their menus,” he said.  “Especially in the wintertime. They would turn the grain elevator into a really fun and family-friendly spot while saving the historic structure.”

But the liquor license is the essential part of the equation that makes the business model work, he said.

System is Antiquated

April Brimmer-Kunz, a former state senator whose family has applied for Cheyenne’s new retail license, agreed with Collins.

“The current state liquor laws are antiquated,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “Economic development in the city of Cheyenne and the state of Wyoming are being hampered by the lack of flexibility in the liquor laws.”

Collins said he will speak with legislators about increasing the number of licenses available.

“I’m very passionate about this,” Collins said.  “We need to create the kind of places that make people want to come and stay in a community and that’s going to drive the economy.”

System is Not Antiquated

However, Chris Brown, spokesman for the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association, said the licensing laws may not be as antiquated as some believe.

Brown said the Legislature regularly reviews the distribution rules and changed the laws within the last 10 years to make more bar and grill licenses available and to expand how resort liquor licenses may be used.

Brown also suggested that some companies seeking a retail license might want to look at the other licenses available to determine if they are applying for the right one.

“I think it makes the headline when all of these businesses apply for a full retail license, but do they all really need that type of license? Maybe a bar and grill license would better fit their needs,” he said.

He added those seeking change in the laws need to be mindful of maintaining a balance that will protect existing businesses.

“I think the primary focus of this discussion is how we can strike a balance that welcomes new investment and new business in the community, while protecting existing businesses and investments,” Brown said.

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Sam Adams Releases 25.4%-Alcohol Beer; Illegal in 15 States But Legal in Wyoming

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Good news for Wyoming beer drinkers.

The lack of regulation on the amount of alcohol in beer sold in Wyoming means that the new Samuel Adams “Utopias” beer is legal in the Cowboy state.

Not so in 15 other states where the 25.4% alcohol level is too high for it to be sold.

Last week, Samuel Adams’ announced the latest incarnation of its “Utopias” beer will be released on Oct. 11. The special brews are released every two years and this batch, the brewery said, is made with thousands of pounds of cherries and the highly-coveted “Balaton” fruit — which is another type of cherry — and foodies love it.

The reason it’s making news, however, is due to its alcohol content. At 25.4%, it’s six times what the average beer holds.

Does that make it really that much more intoxicating?

“Oh, sweet Jesus, yes,” said Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association.

Moser explained that drinking a bottle of Utopias would be similar to drinking 17 or 18 ounces of straight tequila.  

He said if a bottle was consumed in one hour, the blood alcohol content level in a 150-pound male could top 0.3%, about four times the legal limit.

“If you drank one of those containers in an hour, you could quite possibly be dead. You’ll either be hospitalized or wish you were,” he said.

Either way it would be expensive. Samuel Adams is selling the beer for $240 for a 28-ounce container.

Beer snobs say the beer is so costly because of the “long, painstaking process of brewing and aging thick yeast-based beverages like Utopias.”

Moser said the beer is so costly because people will pay for it.

“People love these weird beers the same way that they’ll spend $100 on Bourbon that they’ve never tried before,” he said.  “People don’t necessarily drink more today but they are spending more when they do.”

It’s not unusual, Moser said, for the cost of wine to be more than the cost of a meal when going out to eat.

Regardless, he cautioned that Utopias should be considered sipping beer, not a chugging beer.

The states which don’t allow the beer include:  Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia.

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Wyoming’s Biggest Drinkers Live in Albany And Teton Counties

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

When it comes to tipping back a drink – or five – Albany County ranks as the state’s booziest according to figures compiled by the State of Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division.

According to the division’s annual report “Wyoming and County Profiles,” 22.9% of the adults 21 and older in Albany County, home to the University of Wyoming in Laramie, reported having five drinks or more on one occasion at least once in the past 30 days, the highest percentage in the state. 

The figure was well above the statewide average of 17.7%.  Big Horn County, conversely, had the lowest number of people consuming five drinks at 12.5%.

Albany County’s largest demographic is adults between 20 and 24 years old, comprising just under 22% of the county’s population, or 8,475 residents out of a total of 38,880.

Teton County was a close second to Albany for heavy drinkers at 22.1% of its population of 23,464, not a surprise to Jodie Pond, the county’s health director.

Pond noted that as a host to a resort community, Teton has a lot of young seasonal workers.

“We’re one of the highest in Wyoming for binge drinking,” she said. “We have a lot of seasonal, young 20-somethings that come here. So there’s a drinking culture that’s very prevalent here.”

Third on the list was Washakie at 20.6%, followed by Converse at 20.4% and Sweetwater at 20.2%, respectively.

Fourteen counties fell beneath the state-wide average for those consuming five drinks at a single event, including Campbell, Carbon, Crook, Freemont, Goshen, Hot Spring, Johnson, Laramie, Lincoln, Niobrara, Park, Sublette, Uinta and Weston.

Kelly Hunt, senior agent in the Compliance Department at the Wyoming Liquor Division, said there’s no way to quantify whether a particular county is serving up more liquor than another based on the number of liquor licenses authorized by the state. The licenses are awarded based on a population formula outlined in state statute or given on authorization to private resorts or other qualifying groups. As of May 25, there are 1,383 authorized liquor licenses in the state with the highest number in Laramie County at 109 and the lowest, 10, in Niobrara.

Along with drinking habits, the state-wide report analyzed 30 variables such as population, employment, industry and land ownership among other topics across Wyoming’s 23 counties.

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Wyoming Second Highest In Nation For DUI Arrests

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s the luck o’ the Irish… right?

That’s got to be what keeps some people safe when they don’t practice common sense and choose to drink and drive.

A recent report distributed by the Insurify insurance company listed Wyoming as No. 2 in the nation when it comes to drivers being caught intoxicated behind the wheel. According to the report, 4.68% of drivers in Wyoming have a DUI on their record (the national average is 2.16%). 

Lt. Col. Shannon Ratliff is the operations commander for the Wyoming Highway Patrol. He said he thinks there’s a cultural factor behind Wyoming’s high ranking.

“I mean, we don’t have Uber in a lot of communities,” he said, adding that “people just aren’t afraid to get in their vehicle and drive after they’ve been drinking.”

And that attitude is born out in the statistics. Cody Beers, a department public relations specialist for the department, said he is particularly alarmed by one statistic.

“The statistic that really jumps out at me is that in 2019, 28% of all arrests statewide had to do with people with an average blood alcohol content of 0.16%,” Beers said, quoting from a publication called Alcohol and Crime in Wyoming.

The level at which a driver is considered intoxicated under Wyoming law us 0.08%, about half of Wyoming’s average.

“You’ve got a culture that accepts public drunkenness. And you’ve also got drivers who can function at a high level, and that’s pretty scary,” Beers said.

Beers added that drinking increases the chances for a crash.

“You know, when people are out driving impaired they’re not wearing their seatbelts or they’re driving too fast,” he said. “And when you combine those factors together, you’re not buckled and you’re driving too fast and you’re drinking and driving, you’re gonna have a crash. There’s too many strikes against you.”

And the numbers are rising, according to Beers.

“Statistics show that we had 15,000 traffic crashes in 2019, which is an increase of 7.2% over 2018.”

Beers pointed out that while Wyoming’s law enforcement officers are making DUI arrests, there are obviously a number of people out there who have higher tolerances for alcohol.

“The 48% of people arrested for DUI had a blood alcohol level of 0.16%, and 13% had a blood alcohol of 0.24% or greater,” Beers said. “And when you jump into percentages like that, you start seeing that you’ve got bigger issues than just a guy getting a DUI. 

“Our law enforcement does a great job catching that first-time DUI guy that’s like 0.09%,” he continued. “But we aren’t always as successful catching those 0.16% and above, because these are the people who do this stuff every day, they’re pros.”

So how do authorities try to counter the rising numbers of DUI arrests? Education, according to Lt. Col. Ratliff.

“Wyoming Highway Patrol has several drug recognition experts all over the state,” Ratliff said. “ We have impaired driver education that we get into the schools, and we have an Alive at 25 program.”

“Of course our goal is to keep our young people alive, because we know there’s an inordinate percentage of young folks who are involved in impaired driving incidents and crashes,” he added.

But Ratliff pointed out that it’s not just Highway Patrol troopers who are trained in identifying impaired drivers.

“We recognize that our port of entry folks are very well positioned to detect alcohol on commercial drivers as they come into the state,” he said. “Unfortunately, our ports of entry do detect a large number of drivers who are impaired every year. And an 80,000 pound truck – or heavier – with an impaired driver is just unacceptable, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

So Ratliff said ports of entry staff are trained in what’s known as ARIDE, or Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement. 

WYDOT Director Luke Reiner agreed that education is the best tool that the department has to save lives.

“You know, for me, part of fixing this issue is recognizing and acknowledging the issue,” Reiner said, giving a nod to Gov. Mark Gordon for ensuring that the Council on Impaired Driving continues.

“It’s important for us to set the conditions for our success around the state. And certainly, we’ll continue to educate, because I do agree that’s the key tool that we have, to say ‘This is not who we want to be,’” he said

This week, WYDOT has a higher level of concern about impaired drivers. 

According to WYDOT statistics, St. Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year – and this, unfortunately, means more drunk drivers on the roads. 

“We spend a lot of time putting out information saying, you know, if you need a designated driver, have a plan before you go and all that,” Beers said. “And always remember that you need to have a sober ride home.”

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