Movie and a mixed-drink: Alcohol in theaters faces battle in Louisiana

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In what is becoming a growing trend across the country, movie theaters in Louisiana are now able to sell customers alcohol thanks to a new law that took effect earlier this month.

The law allows commercial theaters to obtain a liquor permit as long as the alcohol sales are physically separated from other concessions in an area that people younger than 18 will be prohibited from entering.

The kicker, though, comes with this part: Theaters are also required to get approval from their local government to sell alcohol, which some municipalities — especially in the state’s more conservative areas — are refusing to allow, saying the new law conflicts with family values and has questionable enforcement methods.

Before this law went into effect, theaters could sell alcohol if they were granted special permission from the commission of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. The current commissioner, Troy Hebert, though, has yet to grant an exemption during his tenure in office and has voiced strong opposition to the new law.

Hebert told nola.com that though the sale point of the alcoholic beverages must be physically separated, there’s no way to prevent an adult from purchasing on behalf of a minor, who then could sneak the beverage into the theater.

If that happens, he said, “we have two options (to enforcing): either not send in ATC agents to ask for IDs or send in agents to ask for kids’ IDs, then disturbing everyone else. I don’t think that’s fair to other patrons.”

A number of theaters in the state can sell alcohol after receiving exemptions from the previous commissioners.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, who sponsored the legislation, said it’s a needed help for the movie theater business, which has struggled in recent years to get attendees to see movies in person thanks to the improvement in home theaters and the growth of content services such as Netflix.

“To adopt the argument that theaters should be operated a certain way, that business should restrict themselves to serve a certain audience, would be akin to vegans demanding that we shouldn’t allow the sale of cheese in theaters because it offends their sensibilities and gives the audience gas,” Morrell said. “It is not the government’s job to restrict business from how they compete and parents have the ability to choose where they pay to view films. “

More than 800 theaters in 30 states already serve alcoholic beverages during shows with some states such as Louisiana, Delaware and North Dakota the latest to join the trend, which started around 2008.

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