Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox has repeatedly emphasized the importance of University students to T-Town’s economy. He was quoted by WVUA/23‘s Chelsea Barton as having said, “Student spending itself in Tuscaloosa is a $366 million investment. August is gonna be maybe one of the most important months in recent history of Tuscaloosa.”
Students spend money on many things in T-Town, alcohol not being the least of them. According to Jason Morton in the Tuscaloosa News “community feedback from bar and restaurant owners” convinced the mayor to pull back on his decision to shut down bar service at 9 pm. He had previously set 11 pm as the hour to end bar only service.
It’s difficult to access the importance that liquor sales have to Tuscaloosa’s economy. And it’s even more difficult to determine how much liquor is consumed by under-aged drinkers. Minors can legally enter premises where alcohol is sold. Alcohol sales to football fans on game day weekends has also doubtlessly generated much tax revenue.
The Alabama Beverage Control Board regulates alcohol sales. Any establishment that serves alcohol is required to be licensed by the board.
There are three types of licenses: (1) 010 Lounge Retail, (2) 020 Restaurant Retail and (3) 031 Private Club.
The 2019 Code of Alabama Title 28 – Intoxicating Liquor, Malt Beverages and Wine establishes age requirements.
Many of the minors who are admitted into licensed establishments are University of Alabama students. The University, according to College Factual‘s The University of Alabama Student Age Diversity Breakdown, has 34.5% of its nearly forty thousand students in the 18-19 age group and 30.9% in the 20-21 age group.
Throughout the nation fake IDs have been used to skirt laws on under-aged sales. In Oxford, Mississippi, where the University of Mississippi is located, Mark Hicks, Director of Enforcement for the Mississippi ABC said in 2006, “We have a big problem in Oxford with students purchasing alcohol with fraudulent identification. This presents a challenge for law enforcement and retailers.”
Oxford’s Mayor Richard Howorth once asked, “Do we really want to be known as a drinking town with a football problem?” He also said, as reported by Chris Elkins in the Daily Journal, “Our No. 1 community problem is the culture of alcohol.”
In 2018, under Howorth’s successor Mayor Robyn Tannehill an ordinance establishing a mandatory program requiring the use of an Electronic Age Verification Device where alcohol was sold was enacted.
During the discussion of the ordinance the testimony of Oxford’s Police of Chief was provided by Chaning Green in the Daily Journal:
Oxford Police Chief Joey East stood before the board to answer questions and provide additional insight to the process. He talked about how there have been over 100 charges, not arrested but charges, that have happened since the students returned. The majority of which happened on the Square, in this Downtown District.
There is a 19-year-old college student currently in the ICU being treated for severe alcohol poisoning, after spending an evening binge drinking and being served in bars on the Square.
Two young women were recently sexually assaulted in two businesses on the Square. One of the businesses didn’t have security cameras and the other one’s cameras were broken.
East said he and the rest of his department are tired of running into these issues over and over again and that it’s past time something was done about it.
As soon as the ordinance was even being considered, many Ole Miss students were thinking about ways to defeat its purpose.
In 2018, Mary Liz King in The Daily Mississippian reported:
Sophomore business major Mason Ross said the ordinance will be a minor setback, but underage students will still find ways to engage in the bar scene in Oxford.
“Students will eventually start getting around the scanners, it will just take time,” Ross said. “I know some people are still getting in. Bouncers are looking the other way as long as people pay the cover charges.”
Establishments that sell alcohol in Alabama are obligated to verify the age of anyone purchasing alcohol. ABC provides training on how to visually detect fake IDs. Bar owners who are periodically given instructions must convey this information to their staff.
Tuscaloosa’s City Council, before the Coronavirus epidemic, had considered the issue of “bar security.” Glenda Webb of the city’s legal staff said that one problem that Tuscaloosa, as well as in other cities, had was the rapid turnaround of staff at bars. There would be a problem at many bars in maintaining a staff that was adequately trained. After a shooting had occurred at a local bar that was related to the behavior of security personnel, “bar security” became a hot topic. Of course due to the turnover having staff members who had expertise in identifying fake IDs was less likely as well.
Any reduction of alcohol sales in Tuscaloosa that has resulted from restrictions due to Coronavirus orders may be reflected in lower city revenues. Just how significant such sales really are may be impossible to determine, much less the significance of sales to minors.
T-Town may not be “a drinking town with a football problem” as Oxford’s mayor described his city. But it can’t be denied that Tuscaloosa has a problem, like any other college town, with under-aged drinking. The impact on its economy that will result from decreased alcohol sales will be hard to ignore.