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State to review beer penalties

Officials, arenas want a solution that is 'just right'

The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission agreed Friday to review and possibly adjust the penalties it typically hands out for violations at sports arenas and Salt Lake City International Airport.

The decision follows a period in which several sports venues and the airport's concessionaire were slapped with five-day license suspensions for selling alcohol to minors.

All liquor sales at the Delta Center were suspended for five days last June after undercover minors bought beer at nine of 26 concession stands during a Utah Jazz game four months earlier. A second violation could result in a 10-day suspension and a third violation, under current commission policy, would revoke the Delta Center's liquor license for three years.

For an establishment such as the Delta Center, where beer is a staple and major source of revenue at Jazz games and other events, surviving that long without the ability to sell alcohol is difficult to fathom.

That's why representatives of the Delta Center, the E Center in West Valley City, Ogden's Lindquist Field, Salt Lake City's Franklin Covey Field and other facilities have worked with the ABC to help prevent such an occurrence.

Delta Center attorney Don Winder and the building's food services manager, Mark Stedman, outlined a number of steps the arena has taken to prevent future violations. Seventeen subsequent attempts by the Department of Public Safety's Covert Underage Buying, or CUB, program have failed to produce a violation, they told the commission.

But Stedman said that's no guarantee one employee won't make a mistake in the future, and such a mistake could prove costly.

"We're not willing to say we're perfect," Stedman said.

"We haven't in the past been tested like we have been recently."

That's because the CUB program, run by the Criminal Investigations Bureau, wasn't launched until 1998. Since its inception, it has been been cracking down on violators.

In light of the increased scrutiny, the arena owners simply want the ABC Commission to allow for more flexibility in how it dispenses penalties, such as charging a fine rather than imposing a five-day suspension on the first offense.

The facility managers also hope the commission will consider an alternative to the three-year license revocation after three violations, the so-called "three strikes, you're out" policy.

Commissioners agreed Friday they could be more flexible but defended past decisions by saying they simply wanted to be consistent in how they interpret and enforce their rules.

"We don't want penalties to be too severe," Commissioner Ted Lewis said. "We don't want them to be too light. We want them to be just right."

Commission Chairman Nicholas Hales said the Commission has broad discretion in the penalties it imposes and should use it more, giving more weight to mitigating circumstances.

The board will meet again late next month and could establish a new policy regarding penalties at that time.