by Max Brantley
The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division went too far even for some legislators with new rules and was forced yesterday by a legislative committee to pull back from writing some laws on its own. As a result two were pulled down: One pertaining to hours that Arkansas distillers (there are two of them currently) may sell their goods and another attempting to prevent retailers from selling goods below cost as loss leaders.
Sadly, the legislature allowed the ABC to go ahead with a rule to prohibit alcohol sales through Groupon and other third-party discount promotions, presumably such as our Half Off Depot feature. We had lined up a liquor store participant months ago and thought we had an OK from the ABC to advertise the retailer through Half Off. Helluva deal for a consumer. You paid $25 and could get $50 worth of goods at the participating store. But the director stepped in and put the kibosh on it. Despite some noise about being willing to work out a compromise on the issue, we now see the workout is to prevent consumers from getting price reductions on their alcohol purchases from any program anywhere.
Surprise. The ABC is all about protecting small monopolies and guaranteed profit margins for makers, wholesalers and retailers. It has no interest in serving consumers. Remember when they tried to enforce an unconstitutional rule against advertising of alcohol prices? The cartel is the biggest obstacle — not churches or reluctant politicians — to Sunday sale of beer in Little Rock today. Liquor stores don't want the cost of opening on Sunday for the most part and so resist any movement for an election to allow it.
Consumers could rise up, but loosening of rules requires overcoming both the anti-competitive industry and the church people, a powerful lobbying combination.
If you're an alcohol purchaser and go to the Cotton Bowl, drop by a Spec's Liquor Warehouse and check prices to see what our system has wrought here. I think you'll find that you'll be happy to be driving an SUV with a lot of room in the back.