Utah businesses are adding a lot more pool tables these days, but it's not to handle a sudden spike in pool sharks and billiards enthusiasts. Instead, resourceful business owners are trying to circumvent the state's restrictive liquor laws.
A new Utah law that went into effect on May 14 allows only certain types of recreational facilities to serve alcohol on their premises. Neither karaoke bars nor ax-throwing joints made the cut.
As Deseret News reports, Utah law previously defined "a recreational amenity as a billiard parlor, bowling alley, golf course, miniature golf, golf driving range, tennis club, sports arena, concert venue or 'substantially similar' activity." However, in the law that went into effect in May, the phrase "substantially similar" was removed. That means only establishments offering one of the listed recreations may be able to obtain a license to serve alcohol.
In May, recreational ax-throwing company Social Axe added two pool tables and a billiards table on their premises to meet the requirements of the new law.
Heart and Seoul, a Utah karaoke bar, hauled in two pool tables and added signs on doors to make customers aware of their existence. Brody Horton, co-owner of Heart and Seoul, told the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in a meeting "we are now a karaoke and billiards hall."
Both companies had applied for and been denied alcohol licenses in April. After seeing Social Axe's solution, Heart and Seoul followed suit.
As The Salt Lake Tribune notes, Heart and Seoul had initially argued that karaoke was substantially similar to listed activities like mini golf, bowling, and billiards. When its alcohol license request was denied, Janelle Bauer, Heart and Seoul's attorney, told the Tribune that the ruling was "arbitrary and capricious."
Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner Jacquelyn Orton said at a May meeting that she believed Social Axe had, "gone above and beyond to show good faith to comply with the intent of the legislature."
But Commissioner Thomas Jacobsen worried about the precedent that would be set by allowing a karaoke bar to obtain an alcohol license, suggesting it may pave the way for alcoholic drinks to be served with"all kinds of other activity—like a reading club." When Social Axe was granted its license, Jacobsen was the lone dissenting vote.
Commissioner Amanda Smith, meanwhile, was worried about the consequences of nitpicking the statute and wants to broaden the requirements once again. "I hope there are people who are looking at redoing the statute and getting rid of the enumeration," she said, "because who knows what recreation is going to look like in the future."