The Controversy of Drinking Games in Bars

Water Pong CupsThe Boston Herald reports on the case of a Boston bar that was penalized by the Boston Licensing Board earlier this year for the presence of a drinking game called water pong at the establishment.   The bar was also cited for the presence of underage drinking.   The Herald article refers to a 2009 Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) advisory on Happy Hour regulations in the state.  

State law prohibits “any game or contest which involves drinking” — vague wording that critics said could allow the city’s licensing board to punish anyone holding a beer while playing a bar game.

The bar in question appealed (as is its right) the decision of the board to the Massachusetts ABCC. Universal Hub reported that the bar in question sought clarification on the definition of a drinking game.

The bar’s attorney, Carolyn Conway, said today the bar is seeking clarification from the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission on water pong. Conway said that unlike with classic beer pong, as played in states with less stringent controls on bars, [the bar’s] water pong involved no prizes or other incentives to swill beer: The bar simply made a water-pong table available for any customers who wanted to try their skill at tossing ping-pong balls into plastic cups.

The Herald also reported that the Boston Licensing Board decision has had a negative effect on the bar games scene in Boston with several organizations and bars cancelling water pong, board games, and corn hole tournaments.

A clarification of the state Happy Hour regulations regarding drinking games can be seen in the Herald story.

Stephen Miller, a Boston attorney who specializes in liquor licenses, said the ABCC hearing may prove helpful: “My guess is they’ll come out with more of a ruling of what drinking game means. I couldn’t define drinking game.”

How would your establishment be affected by this anticipated ABCC decision?

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