‘Tough Bill’ Ends Liquor Monopoly Two Years Early

BERLIN — Compromise legislation that will allow the Casino at Ocean Downs to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. while moving up the sunset provision in the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) wholesale operation was unanimously passed by both the House and Senate late last week and now awaits the governor’s signature for becoming the law.

In March, feathers were ruffled when it was learned an amendment could be attached to a bill in the General Assembly addressing other issues related to Worcester County’s liquor laws that would have allowed the Casino at Ocean Downs to serve alcohol 24 hours a day.

The proposed change rankled the liquor license holders in Worcester, most of which are concentrated in and around Ocean City, because of the perception it would create an uneven playing field for the bars and restaurants that would still be held to the firm 2 a.m. closing time while the casino just a few miles away could continue to serve all night if it desired.

As a result, the license holders pushed for a concession on their behalf in the form of an earlier disconnect date from the county’s DLC wholesale operation. As part of the legislation that dissolved the old Liquor Control Board (LCB) and created the county-run DLC, the licensees were required to continue to purchase wholesale liquor from the county until July 1, 2016, at which point they would be able to opt out and purchase spirits on the open market if they so desired.

When the dust settled, the amendment was changed to allow the Casino at Ocean Downs to continue to serve alcohol until 4 a.m., not 24 hours as they originally hoped for, and the sunset date for the license holders to opt out of the DLC and test the wholesale open market was moved from July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2014.

For its part, Worcester’s advantage in the tit-for-tat process would be a relaxing of the rules on from whom and from where the county could purchase is wholesale liquor for redistribution.

“That was a tough bill and it took weeks to resolve, but everybody worked together and found a compromise to get a good result,” said Senator Jim Mathias this week. “The casino got its extended hours, the county got some clarification on its wholesale operation and the licensees will get to test the open market earlier than anticipated.”