Regulation

North Dakota City Rewriting Rules to Keep Theater From Getting Liquor License

A theater in Bismarck applied for a liquor license, so city leaders decided to change the requirements.

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Movie theaters, facing ever-increasing competition from innovators such as Netflix and other on-demand movie services are trying new ways to lure potential customers out of their homes.

Some have found success by turning the movie-going experience into more than just squeaky chairs, sticky floors and popcorn.

Recent years have seen a new trend of upscale movie theaters offering food and drink menus that look like they should belong in a restaurant. Some even have tables instead of the traditional rows of fold-up seats.

But that sort of business model only works if you can get the proper licenses from the local or state government.

It won't fly in Bismarck, North Dakota.

City officials there voted last week to rewrite the rules to prevent a movie theater from purchasing a liquor license.

Carmike Theaters, a national chain, had applied for a license and planned to offer beer for sale—something the company is doing across the country as part of a national effort to expand concession offerings.

City commissioners responded by tightening the rules on who can get a license to serve booze. They told the Bismarck Times that the original intent of the city's liquor licensing law was to ensure only restaurants and bars can sell.  The new law requires potential licensees to have table tops and a full kitchen before they can serve beer or liquor.

In Bismarck, Carmike Theaters filed the license application on Jan. 20, before city commissioners rewrote the law to specifically exclude them.

R.J. Pathroff, an attorney from the Vogel Law Firm, who represented Carmike Theaters, told the Bismarck Tribune that the city should not base its decision retroactively on a revised law.

City officials say they have never given a liquor license to any establishment that isn't a restaurant or a bar—the classic bureaucratic response of "we've always done it this way" explains so much about what makes government a pain to deal with, when you think about it.

Except that's not even true. As the Tribune points out, the Bismarck Event Center, a convention center, has a liquor license.

Finally, other members of the city council said they had concerns about minors being served alcohol in the movie theater.

Seems like that's an argument for banning all alcohol sales in the city, right? Isn't there an equal concern that minors could get a beer at a bar or restaurant?

If those establishments serve minors, and get caught, they will be punished and will lose their license. Why should a movie theater be treated any differently?

Rewriting a law to specifically exclude or ban one particular business—after they've already applied for the license, no less—is a straight-up intrusion by government into the marketplace. In the absence of a legitimate public safety reason to stop Carmike Theaters from selling beer, this action by the Bismarck City Council screams of nannyism.

It could be worse, though. This guy in England is trying to get theaters to ban popcorn.  The horror!

This article originally appeared at Watchdog.org.

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  1. They told the Bismarck Times that the original intent of the city’s liquor licensing law was to ensure only restaurants and bars can sell.

    It would be easy enough to write the rules that way if that really was the intent. The fact they didn’t, makes me think it wasn’t.

    1. The fact that the convention center got a liquor license was enough for me.

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  2. I think I’ve seen 7 or 8 movies since the last time I was at a theater where you couldn’t buy alcohol (with most of those in the fancier ones where they will even serve you at your seat). I’ve yet to see anyone even get drunk, let alone be a nuisance. I’m at the point where it’s hard to imagine choosing to go to a theater where I can’t sip a beer during the showing. Fuck bureaucrats.

    1. We go to a theater with a full bar here all the time (well, we did before we had a newborn). Even if we don’t feel like drinking that night, if it’s a new movie we’ll still usually get tickets in the balcony where they serve alcohol because inevitably if we’re not in the 21+ area we’re next to some parents who can’t control their kids, or have to explain the entire movie to them.

      1. I saw some very heated arguments about taking kids to the movies when The Force Awakens was coming out.

        1. I waited until school resumed after the holidays to see TFA. And then I made sure to go at lunchtime. Just to avoid the little shitbags.

      2. I generally don’t have a problem with it if it’s a matinee and not an R rated movie. I just kind of figure kids talking is the trade-off for a cheaper ticket. It’s the evening movies that bug me. The worst one I’ve been to was an 8:30 showing of Terminator: Salvation (which was already a shitty movie) where some kid was clearly having trouble either following what was happening or maintaining interest in it, so the entire film the dad was very audibly saying things like “whoa, look, he just punched that guy! Now they’re going here! They have to do this now!”

        On a different level of annoying kids, when we went to see TFA on opening night, there was a kid next to us that, before the film started, was going on about how ESB was the worst Star Wars film because it was boring and the prequels were awesome because of Jar-Jar. He didn’t disrupt the movie, but I’m still not sure he should have been allowed to be there just on principle.

        1. there was a kid next to us that, before the film started, was going on about how ESB was the worst Star Wars film because it was boring and the prequels were awesome because of Jar-Jar. He didn’t disrupt the movie, but I’m still not sure he should have been allowed to be there just on principle.

          No, he shouldn’t have. You must have amazing restraint. I’m not sure I could have resisted the urge to throw the kid face first out of the theater along with his complete failures of parents. How anyone could raise such an abomination is beyond me. I can’t think of a better example of justifiable retroactive abortion and forced sterilization of the parents to ensure they don’t create another one.

        2. We referred to him as “Sith Kid” because he’s clearly evil.

          1. I would have force choked him. Although my idea of using the ‘force’ would involve wrapping y hands around his windpipe and squeezing. One can only hope his parents beat him with a bat regularly. Children need more beatings.

    2. Because after shelling out a ridiculous amount of money for the tickets, who has enough left over for more than one very overpriced beer?

  3. There’s this place by my house that’s served beer and (okay) pizza in theaters stuffed with old comfy sofas for decades. I’m glad the trend is expanding nationwide.

    1. *trying to expand

  4. Rewriting a law to specifically exclude or ban one particular business?after they’ve already applied for the license, no less?is a straight-up intrusion by government into the marketplace.

    All government licensing is a “straight-up intrusion by government into the marketplace”!

    1. 95% of what government does is intrusion into the marketplace.

      1. Only 95%? I can’t think of anything that isn’t an intrusion in the marketplace (as all government action is begat from taxation).

  5. [raises hand] Ooh! Ooh! Lemme guess. The city council is made up of bar and restaurant owners and/or their friends.

  6. Imagine the horrors that might befall the public if we did not empower the government to point guns at people to prevent them from serving food and alcohol to people who are watching movies.

  7. Yet another reason why I’m glad I don’t live in Bismark, ND. There’s a theater like this close to where I live now. It’s awesome, not only because you can get real food and booze, but also because the movie tickets tend to be cheaper since they make enough money off the food and alcohol sales to make up for it.

  8. Finally, other members of the city council said they had concerns about minors being served alcohol in the movie theater.

    Seems like that’s an argument for banning all alcohol sales in the city, right?

    Don’t give these fucktards ideas.

  9. I assume the word “city” is being used generously here.

  10. Might as well let the theater offer it as a service. ND is one of the hardest drinking states in the union. If someone really wants to have a drink or six, they’ll just do it before they show up. Heck, I bet that’s what happens now.

  11. If the Bismarck council want to be jerks, the obvious response is to close down all Carmike Theaters in Bismarck. They obviously aren’t interested in supporting businesses, or maybe they only want to support the “right” businesses.

  12. I live across the street from a Carmike. They don’t sell beer as far as I’m aware. But I haven’t checked lately.

    When I see a movie, I usually ignore the concession stand completely.

  13. Does this amount to a bill of attainder? Which would be, you know, kinda unconstitutionny.

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