Alabama: State alcohol agency also controls flagellation, exotic dancing and slots

Mark Willingham Uncategorized

Alabama: State alcohol agency also controls flagellation, exotic dancing and slots


Cameron Smith

October 28, 2016

I’ll confess that I had to look up the word “flagellation” as it appears in the administrative code of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. I assumed I must have missed an alternate definition.

I did not.

Why is a term that means “flogging or beating for religious discipline or —ual gratification” found in Alabama’s alcohol regulations? As it turns out, ABC Board licensees-businesses who sell alcohol on their premises-can’t allow that sort of activity.

That has to be an awkward conversation in the bar when someone breaks out their whips and the person in charge has to school them on Alabama law.

I’m not kidding. Alabama’s booze bureaucracy actually prohibits several activities unrelated to alcohol. But when you’re an agency with a social-control mandate, why stop with adult beverages?

If flagellation wasn’t strange enough, here’s another fun one:

No ABC Board licensee shall permit bottomless dancing, topless dancing wherein the portion of the female breast beneath the top of the nipple is exposed…on the premises of such licensee.

Apparently the ABC is also an acronym for Adult Boobie Control. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t regulate adult-oriented establishments, but doing so DOESN’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH ALCOHOL. This is literally the definition of what government overreach looks like. It’s no different from the Environmental Protection Agency going after drug dealers or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention running a museum.

Another ABC regulation prohibits licensees from showing anything with “scenes wherein artificial devices or inanimate objects are employed to depict, or drawings are employed to portray [—ual content].”

How does an alcohol administrator even come up with that? Is someone sitting around deeply concerned about the societal harms of mixing alcohol with a drawing of a —ually suggestive tree? Again, how can that possibly be under the purview of the ABC Board?

The ABC uses liquor licenses as leverage to prohibit or limit otherwise lawful activity. It’s paternalism at its finest. More importantly, we don’t need the ABC even if we do want to ban alcohol at adult entertainment venues.

Unfortunately, the ABC doesn’t stop its overreach at moderating legal activities unrelated to alcohol. It regulates illegal activity as well.

Gambling isn’t an issue of alcohol administration, but if you’re into government control, it’s awfully hard to hold back. The ABC administrative code details a prohibition against gaming, gambling and betting activities as a condition of holding an alcohol license. It’s already illegal under Alabama law, but the ABC feels the need to pile on.

Thanks to the ABC’s pointlessly expansive regulations, Gov. Robert Bentley could actually pull an illegal casino’s liquor license since actually enforcing Alabama’s anti-gambling laws seems to be difficult.

The ABC’s cited permission for its bureaucratic sprawl is an Alabama code section (28-3-49) which grants general regulatory authority “not inconsistent” with the rest of Alabama’s alcohol laws. Clearly, the ABC has a loose understanding of what’s consistent with its charge to control alcoholic beverages.

The ABC isn’t a necessary agency at a time when state budgets are tight. As I’ve repeatedly noted, everything the ABC does can be handled by the Legislature and law enforcement. Most states don’t have an ABC; Alabama shouldn’t either.

Want to maintain alcohol revenues? We’ve got a Legislature and a whole revenue department to figure that out. How about preventing sales to minors? Our police can and will follow up on reports of that kind of business behavior. And if you’re a politician who wants to protect the interests of people who lease property to the state ABC Board, the rest of us aren’t particularly sympathetic.

The ABC should be a prime target for conservative legislators who want the government restrained to its legitimate functions. Far too many Alabama politicians still want more tax dollars to spend on everything from infrastructure to Medicaid. How can conservative state politicians ask us for more money when they’re still spending it on Prohibition-era social police who can’t even stay in their regulatory lane?

Cameron Smith is a regular columnist for and state programs director for the R Street Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.