Badlander bars get a four-day shutdown


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Be prepared to be extra thirsty in early June. Or, be prepared to have less watering holes to choose from, anyway. The owners of the Badlander complex, which includes the Badlander, Palace, the Golden Rose, the Savoy and the Central, will close its doors for four days, from June 6-9, after failing an under-age drinking sting. The complex's five bars all share one liquor license, but the sheer size of the place makes it a little more vulnerable to error. Here's the owners' statement on the situation:

Missoula, MT — April 26th, 2011 - By order of the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR), the Badlander complex (The Badlander, The Palace, The Golden Rose, The Savoy, and The Central) is going to be closed Mon., June 6 through Thur., June 9.

The closure is happening because we failed an underage drinking sting for the third time in three years.

DOR has had long-standing guidelines regarding the number of stings a business can fail within a three-year period (three in three years can possibly result in a 20-day suspension, hence some of the errant information that has been circulating during the last few months). What's changed has been the frequency of the stings. The Missoula Police Department (MPD) has placed a strong emphasis on preventing underage drinking during the last three years and have stepped up their stings considerably. To their credit, they have been deliberate and transparent about this, holding several meetings with Missoula's bar owners to be sure we were aware of the new emphasis and enforcement efforts.

Our situation is a unique one, as we have five different businesses serving alcohol under one license. This has gotten us five times as many sting attempts because the police treat us as five different bars. In fact, we have passed scores of compliance checks during the last three years. DOR, however, treats us as one license holder, putting us in a perilous position as far as the stings and their consequences go.

We have tried very hard to be as vigilant as possible to prevent underage drinking in our establishments, and while we have done everything we can to implement systems and educate employees to prevent any inadvertent serving to minors, things went wrong enough times to put us in this unfortunate situation. We send all our bartenders to the state-run alcohol server education class, we have a zero-tolerance policy (if you are caught serving to a minor you are fired immediately), we give our door people incentives to confiscate fake IDs, and we spend a great deal of money on security staffing (along with very specific and extensive guidelines). In the end, though, we are completely at the mercy of our employees. We love our staff dearly and they have been critical to our continued existence but, under the current system, we are very vulnerable to their actions or mistakes. A bartender failing an underage drinking sting gets a $250 ticket and loses their job; we face the possibility of losing a multimillion-dollar business. Being so exposed to what could be simple human error is a very stressful situation for us, needless to say, and with such a small fraction of underage drinking in general happening in bars (4%, by some measures), seems a bit disproportionate.

Being closed for four days will not be easy for our employees or ourselves — nobody is looking forward to unwanted days off, particularly in the current economic climate, and with the expenses of maintaining a large building, taxes, and our mortgage payments (exacerbated by the smoking ban decimating our casino business), staying open to keep the cash flowing is very important for our continued survival.

We wholeheartedly support Montana's (both state and local) recent increased attention to the problems of alcohol abuse. Drunk driving, underage drinking, and willful over-serving are all issues that deserve serious thought and resources, and in no way do we blame DOR or the MPD for our situation. The way our license applies to multiple businesses is a very special and privileged arrangement that might never happen again, and we accept the responsibilities that come with that. We would never ask either department to bend the law or change their policies just for us. From our perspective, a unique licensing arrangement combined with a new enforcement priority put us in a position that nobody intended. We just want to be sure everybody knows how we got here, and that it is not a product of any negligence or ignorance on our part. All our employees have known for years how serious this issue is but that has not eliminated errors that have been magnified by our licensing situation.

We take our responsibilities very seriously and consciously do our best to be a contributing member of our community. We appreciate the interest our situation has generated and will continue in our efforts to obey the law and act responsibly.

We have intended this press release to be our complete comment on the situation. You may send questions, requests for clarification, etc. but we cannot guarantee any further comment.


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