Utah is the most controlling of the liquor control states, but study says we’re not alone

Posted at 9:58 PM, May 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-05 08:06:05-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah cast the deciding vote to end Prohibition back in 1933, but we're also the most controlling state in the nation when it comes to liquor.

Utah is among 17 states in the nation considered "liquor control states," according to the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association (plus a handful of local jurisdictions). A 2013 analysis of their business models by the University of Michigan found that "the Beehive State has the most comprehensive level of state control, encompassing the wholesale and retail of any drink with over 4% alcohol content."

But states exercising liquor control found significant benefits, the study's author, Dr. Roland Zullo, said in a recent interview with FOX 13.

"Those systems generate a lot of revenue for the states which, today, because of such difficulties states are having in paying for public services, it actually turns out to be a very valuable asset," he said.

Even for a state with a smaller drinking population (largely due to the dominant Mormon culture), Utah has seen years of record-breaking profits.

A breakdown of the Utah DABC's profits:

DABC profits

Zullo's study found that liquor control states had lower consumption rates, but also lower crime rates. He said Utah exercised more of what is termed a "temperance model," where moral values come into play. Other control states view liquor as a dollars and cents issue.

Zullo pointed to New Hampshire as his ideal model for a liquor control state, with well-stocked border stores and aggressive sales. In part because of their liquor control model, Zullo said New Hampshire residents do not pay sales or income tax.

"They generate more than anybody else," he told FOX 13. "They generate, I estimated, about $125 per adult in the state. That's not because the people of New Hampshire drink a lot."

On its website, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission advertises liquor specials and "conveniently located liquor outlets."

"This has not happened by accident, but by design, as the State Liquor Commission aggressively pursues a strategy that provides you with the best possible value and the most pleasant shopping experience," the commission proudly states.

By contrast, Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is forbidden from advertising or promoting alcohol -- merely making it available to residents who want it.

Zullo said Utah could make even more money, if it adopted a model similar to New Hampshire's.

Read the University of Michigan study here:

Changes to Utah's liquor laws are not likely to happen anytime soon, said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.

Stevenson told FOX 13 he has been tasked with handling liquor control legislation by Senate Republican leaders, taking over for John Valentine, who resigned to become the Utah State Tax Commissioner. Under Valentine, Utah's liquor laws were both praised for keeping underage drinking and DUI rates low and condemned for being tourist and consumer unfriendly.

"I think if you go back and look at the legislation and the intent of the original legislation, it talks about the state's business is not to promote additional consumption," he told FOX 13. "The profit piece is a benefit from consumption, but I don't think the state is trying to promote consumption."

Senator Jerry Stevenson in an interview with FOX 13 on Utah liquor laws.

Senator Jerry Stevenson in an interview with FOX 13 on Utah liquor laws.

Stevenson said he has been getting familiar with the DABC and Utah's laws, but has no immediate plans to draft any legislation.

"I'm not sure we're inhibiting anyone from getting a drink if they want a drink," Stevenson said.

The senator told FOX 13 he is not likely to drop the so-called "Zion Curtains," separate preparation areas that keep one from seeing a drink being made in restaurants. He said he also has not heard any complaints about "intent to dine," where a restaurant customer must verbally state they intend to order food before being served an alcoholic beverage.

"Our laws are not that quirky," Stevenson said, pointing to other states with restrictions like Wyoming, which also has separate preparation areas and Massachusetts, which also doesn't have "happy hour."

Melva Sine, the president of the Utah Restaurant Association and a longtime critic of Utah's liquor laws, disagrees.

"We really need to be more hospitable to our guests and our patrons and allow them as adults to enjoy an evening out," she said.

State hospitality and tourism leaders (including the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce) have called for changes to Utah's liquor laws. A poll by found a majority of Utahns supported doing away with "Zion Curtains."

RELATED: Q & A with the DABC

The Utah State Legislature has been reluctant to make changes. A bill sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, to tear down the "Zion Curtains" went nowhere on Utah's Capitol Hill. Stevenson said he anticipated a few bills in January, but wasn't sure how far they would advance.

Sine hoped lawmakers would contemplate changes.

"Everyone feels we need to bring our liquor laws into the 21st century and make them so people aren't able to make fun of and continue to ridicule the state of Utah," she said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has weighed in on the subject (a majority of state lawmakers belong to the faith) and declared that Utah liquor laws are fine the way they are. The LDS Church posted this video online:

Governor Gary Herbert agreed, but acknowledged he expected debate over "Zion Curtains" next year.

"For all the whining and complaining we hear out there, the results seem to indicate we're doing pretty well," the governor told FOX 13.