Beer, Wine Licenses on Hold

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – More than 120 new state restaurant beer and wine licenses are on hold, as officials review the state law that regulates them.

Department of Revenue Director Dan Bucks said officials want to know if people who unsuccessfully applied for cabaret licenses in the past can apply that preference in multiple locations – as some did this year.

They also want to know whether unsuccessful applicants can keep that status for the rest of their lives.

State law provides for two kinds of preferences in restaurant beer and wine licenses. One preference goes to a restaurant that has been open at least a year, while the other goes to an unsuccessful license applicant who applies again.

Those with two preferences jump to the front of the line for licenses, followed by those with one preference and then those with no preferences.

“We are re-reviewing the issues. … There’s a spirit here in the law of trying to provide opportunities for more people, although the letter of the law isn’t always clear,” Bucks said late Thursday.

The inquiry was initiated by revenue officials, not by any complaints from unsuccessful applicants, he said.

The department’s Liquor Control Division held lottery drawings for the new licenses in Billings, Bozeman, Helena and Missoula earlier this week.

More than 500 individuals and businesses applied for the 124 new licenses, which were created by a bill passed by the 2007 Legislature. The state already has 304 cabaret licenses available, with 136 issued and five pending.

Cabaret licenses differ in several ways from conventional all-beverage licenses held by a number of restaurants.

Holders of cabaret licenses are not allowed to install electronic gambling machines or to have sit-down bars. At least 65 percent of these restaurants’ income must come from food, and they can be open only from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

Cabaret licenses also are considerably cheaper. All-beverage licenses in some cities now sell for upward of $1 million each.