ShoWare officials work to pare down Liquor Board fine

ShoWare Center operators could see a reduction in a state Liquor Control Board fine as they implement new alcohol-serving policies at the Kent arena after eight vendors were caught selling alcohol to minors.

The new policies are part of a compromised agreement still being worked on between ShoWare Center officials and the liquor board. The agreement could reduce the $500 fine the liquor board levied against SMG, the operators of the city-owned arena, for selling alcohol to minors at concession stands during a Dec. 11 Seattle Thunderbirds hockey game.

Tim Higgins, ShoWare general manager, participated in an informal hearing by phone Wednesday with a liquor control board officer in Olympia.

"It went well," Higgins said in a phone interview Wednesday. "We felt they were pleased with the actions we have implemented so violations don't occur in the future."

The liquor board will release details of the agreement within a few weeks after Higgins and the liquor board's enforcement chief sign the agreement, if it is acceptable to both parties, said Anne Radford, spokeswoman for the liquor board.

"Within a month, we expect to hear from them about a reduction in the fine," Higgins said.

The agreement does not go before the liquor control board members because it was a first offense, Radford said. She said that policy was recently changed so the board does not have to deal with most first offenses.

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.

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.

Despite eight violations by vendors at the arena, the multiple violations at a public stadium or arena are considered one violation and therefore a fine of $500 or a five-day suspension of the liquor license, Radford said.

In the past, the liquor board used to add each violation by a vendor on a one-day check and issue much larger fines to the operators of the stadiums or arenas.

"That (policy) was changed about a year or two ago to shift how we handle larger public venues like Qwest Field or the ShoWare," Radford said. "The fines would be in the thousands of dollars so we shifted the policy."

Radford said the new policy puts operators of larger venues in line with grocery store owners who are fined $500 for the first violation if one clerk sells alcohol to a minor.

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.

Other steps taken last month by SMG included:

• 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.

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 even after the person turns 21.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

"They (the liquor board officer) offered other suggestions that we will evaluate," Higgins said about the Wednesday hearing. "They gave us suggestions to add to our list and they were great ideas."

Higgins said those ideas from the board could become part of the final agreement.

"We're here to work with the liquor control board and make this a better system," Higgins said.

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