ShoWare Center sees reduction in liquor fines

The state Liquor Control Board reduced a $500 fine to $300 against the ShoWare Center operators after eight vendors were caught selling alcohol to minors.

A compromised agreement between the liquor board and SMG, the operators of the city-owned arena, reduced the fine levied against SMG for selling alcohol to minors at concession stands during a Dec. 11 Seattle Thunderbirds hockey game at the Kent arena.

ShoWare officials instigated new policies about selling alcohol that caused the liquor board to reduce the fine.

"I think that's good," said Tim Higgins, ShoWare general manager, about the fine reduction, in a phone interview Friday. "They (liquor board officials) were impressed with the actions we have taken to help eliminate this from happening again."

The liquor board's enforcement chief signed off Jan. 27 on a compromised agreement with ShoWare Center officials, said Anne Radford, spokeswoman for the liquor board, in a phone interview Thursday.

Higgins said he made it clear during a Jan. 13 informal hearing by phone with a liquor control board officer in Olympia about the steps that had been taken at the arena so no more violations would occur.

"Our hearing officer was impressed with the level of attention ShoWare took to prevent sales to minors from happening again," Radford said.

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.

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.

"That we no longer take vertical ID's is one of the biggest things," Higgins said of the policy changes. "When we talked to the liquor board about doing that, they said that should eliminate the problem."

Other steps taken by SMG included:

Clear information of the date of birth which defines whether a person is of age or not 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 and sign off daily on that statement; and SMG started internal sting operations to make sure vendors are following the law and SMG's own policies regarding the sale of alcohol. Any non-compliance will result in discipline or termination as appropriate.

The agreement did 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.

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.

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