The Voice of the Community Since 1909, Serving Moorcroft and Pine Haven, Wyoming

Liquor license bills move forward

CHEYENNE — Both liquor license bills considered Thursday by the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee advanced to the next stage of the approval process. 

Committee members were responsible in the interim session for re-evaluating the process to set fees at a fair market value for retail liquor licenses within municipalities, along with other issues regarding liquor license formulas and requirements. 

Lawmakers finalized three bills that will be sponsored for the 2023 general session, including one passed in August that would incrementally loosen bar-and-grill liquor license formulas. 

Although advocates for change have been successful in getting the proposals on the list for 2023, the discussions have turned into a debate between the state’s liquor dealer lobbying group and municipalities. 

Arguments have been made that additional availability of licenses could actually hurt communities, while local leaders argue their economies are being held back. 

The first bill that addresses retail liquor license fees spoke less to this issue, while the second would develop a new type of license without population-formula limits. It would create a tavern and entertainment liquor license, as well as authorize the local licensing authority to determine on a case-by-case basis the types of entertainment that qualify.

“I love the idea that this brings to us. We also appreciate the challenges you guys have with balancing our needs for more licenses and more business opportunities with the social problems that come with alcohol,” Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins testified.

“What I like about this particular bill is we’re not asking for bars … we’re talking about an entertainment place where you’re there for a different purpose, and alcohol just happens to be something that helps that business to be successful.” 

Collins wants to give residents a reason to stay, as well as support local entrepreneurs. He said the process doesn’t help with these goals. 

Business owners who would benefit from this change attended the meeting to make their case.

Former state legislator April Brimmer Kunz and her son, JB Kunz, were among the 11 applicants vying for a sole retail liquor license in Cheyenne, and they were not chosen by the Cheyenne City Council. 

The business owners plan to move forward with Ace’s Range, a golf and shooting simulator, after unsuccessfully lobbied for a liquor license that would cater to their needs without needing to have a restaurant. 

“We’re not a big business who can afford the price of retail liquor licenses...They’re overpriced,” April Brimmer Kunz said. “This is an opportunity for the small business to come into every one of your towns with their concept of what might keep people in town and provide entertainment.” 

Another issue is whether entertainment should get its own definition. 

Legislators decided to allow the municipalities to determine what businesses qualified. 

Wyoming State Liquor Association Executive Director Mike Moser said it could be too unregulated. 

“If there’s a loophole in liquor laws, people find it pretty quick,” he said. “And so the way this is defined, if you narrow it down to the live performances, where the bulk of the money in the business comes from ticket sales, or movies in theaters, and do a minimum seating, you begin to follow something that actually may make some sense.” 

He questioned the validity of some business models being considered entertainment, specifically shooting and golf simulators. 

He said it was a seasonal activity in the winter, and “they aren’t as much fun as shooting, because you don’t get that wonderful smell of gun oil and gunpowder, you don’t get to feel the recoil. Same is true with live golf.” 

The potential amendment he supported was drafted by the Legislative Service Office and would define entertainment as forms of recreation, indoor concerts, comedy shows, dancing, escape-room games, fashion shows, movies, performance art, karaoke, sports simulators, arcades, art exhibits and bowling. 

Some lawmakers shared his concerns with allowing local municipalities to define entertainment on their own. 

Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, said, “We’re back to the Wild West, pre-1935.” 

He wants to see more restrictions so there is consistency statewide. 

Others believe it’s time to grant local power. 

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, said the state had always prided itself on being enterprise friendly, and he heard about at least three instances in which liquor laws became obstacles for businesses. 

“We can’t take the radical step of just abolishing and having a free-for-all. That is not practical,” he said. “But I think there’s a real necessity here to loosen up these laws so these entrepreneurs can move forward and test their ideas in the free market, put their money at risk and see if they can make it work.”