Eight ShoWare Center vendors caught selling alcohol to minors
By STEVE HUNTER
Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter
December 28, 2009 · Updated 8:40 AM
A state Liquor Control Board sting caught eight vendors at the ShoWare Center in Kent selling alcohol to minors during a recent hockey game.
SMG, the operators of the city-owned arena, faces a possible $500 fine or a five-day suspension of its liquor license in February by the liquor board for selling alcohol to minors at concession stands during a Dec. 11 Seattle Thunderbirds hockey game. SMG requested a Jan. 13 hearing with a liquor board officer to get the fine or suspension reduced.
Eight of 13 vendors sold alcohol to minors during an undercover compliance check by a state liquor board agent, a Kent Police officer, a 19-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman who worked with the agent and officer at the game.
The incident brought quick reaction from Kent city officials. City staff met with SMG and Savor officials shortly after the incident at the arena that opened one year ago. Savor is the food and beverage service division of SMG, which contracts with the city run the arena.
"This type of activity is not acceptable and we let them know that," said John Hodgson, city chief administrative officer, in a phone interview Dec. 23. "We are disappointed this took place but we are pleased with their response. They took immediate action with the employees and have new policies that should eliminate this problem."
SMG fired the six employees who sold alcohol to the minors. Two other vendors worked for a nonprofit group as part of an agreement with SMG to get a cut of the sales of food and beverages at certain concession stands.
Since receiving the liquor violation notice, SMG has posted new signs at the ShoWare that every patron must show identification when buying alcohol and that vertical identifications will not be accepted to buy alcohol. SMG had not previously enforced its policy that all customers must show identification to buy alcohol.
"We want to be more proactive so alcohol does not get in the hands of those who are not legal," said Beth Sylves, spokeswoman for SMG, in a phone interview Dec. 22.
People younger than 21 receive a vertical identification card from the state Department of Licensing rather than the standard horizontal identification. But the vertical identifications remain valid with the state after the person turns 21.
"This makes it easier for staff to more rapidly identify the right age," Sylves said of the arena's ban against vertical identifications.
During the undercover sting, seven of the eight vendors who sold alcohol to minors asked for identification and looked at identification. Each 19-year-old carried their valid identification that stated when they would turn 21. One vendor sold alcohol without asking for identification.
SMG officials requested an informal hearing with a liquor board officer to discuss the incident and possibly get the fine reduced in return for steps being taken to eliminate the sale of alcohol to people younger than 21 at the arena.
The state will conduct the hearing Jan. 13 by phone from Olympia with SMG.
If the hearings officer and SMG reach an agreement, the officer will forward a decision about a fine or license suspension to the three-member state liquor board for final approval, said Anne Radford, spokeswoman for the liquor board. If an agreement cannot be reached, SMG can request a formal hearing.
The penalties are suspended until the proceedings are final and the board issues a decision.
"It's either a fine or a suspension, not both," Radford said.
SMG officials sent a letter Dec. 14 to the liquor board that stated they would take the following actions because of the Dec. 11 incident:
• Clear and precise signage will be placed at each point of sale that clearly states that we no longer accept vertical identification in the purchase of alcohol, as recommended by (liquor board agent) Diana Peters.
• Clear information of the date of birth which defines whether a person is of age or not will be posted at each point of sale.
• Require that all individuals who sell alcohol will have read and understand their responsibility with the sale of alcohol. All staff members will sign off on this daily.
• Reinforce our policy that we card everyone regardless of age and regardless of whether or not a patron may have presented identification at a prior purchase.
• We will schedule further training of our staff with Diana Peters. Attendance will be mandatory for all staff and non-profit members who work in our facility regardless of the fact that all our servers may already have been trained previously.
• All individuals who were involved (Dec. 11) will no longer be employed by Savor.
• We would like to conduct our own internal sting operation occasionally to see that we are compliant with the law and our own policies regarding the sale of alcohol. Any non-compliance will result in discipline or termination as appropriate.Contact Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter Steve Hunter at email@example.com or 253-872-6600, ext. 5052.