Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

The Austin Center for Events (ACE), Austin Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission will be teaming up this year to add extra safety precautions to the festival because of the growing number of South By Southwest attendees. As one of the new precautions, the ACE has reduced the number of temporary event permits.
Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Tens of thousands of people will flood the streets of Austin next week for South By Southwest. As more people make Austin their spring break destination, the City is taking new safety precautions.

The Austin Center for Events (ACE) — the office that issues temporary event permits — the Austin Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission are collaborating to make SXSW a safer festival. 

Bill Manno, ACE corporate special events program manager, said ACE reduced the number of issued permits for public events from 168 to 147 between 2014–2015. Manno said ACE plans to reduce the number of permits to 125 for future SXSW conventions.  

“After last year’s South By, we had some public meetings and online surveys,” Manno said. “There was a lot of discussion about how it’s just
too overprogrammed.”

Event coordinators must acquire certain types of permits before using spaces in the city not typically used for public events, such as parking lots. This year, Manno said ACE paid more attention to the cumulative impact of events already taking place in a requested area.  

“There have been some [events] that have been denied just because they want to do it on the same date and same location as many others,”
Manno said. 

Event coordinators who do acquire permission to host temporary outdoor music events will face earlier cutoff times. 

In the past, these events could continue until 2 a.m. To abate neighboorhood complaints, temporary outdoor music events will end earlier than others to prevent overcrowded streets. Temporary outdoor music events end at 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 p.m. Thursday and 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday. 

ACE worked with Austin Energy this year to improve the safety of the events downtown by adding brighter LED bulbs to streetlights on
Sixth Street. 

“We’re hoping we can illuminate some of the traditionally dark areas,” Manno said. “Sixth Street has some really nice shade trees, but they also block out light and cause some dark spots, which sometimes the criminal element will take advantage of.”

The APD will have 10–12 percent more officers at SXSW, said Tim Pruett, commander over special events for APD.

“[Attendees will] definitely see additional officers downtown,” Pruett said. “The more public safety people you see downtown, the safer
you feel.”

TABC — the state agency that issues and enforces alcoholic beverage permits — will also bring in extra staff this year, TABC Capt. Harry Nanos said. Nanos said some of the extra staff will be undercover, looking for violations such as underage drinking, venues selling to minors
and overconsumption. 

Nanos said changes are partly in response to last year’s drunken driving incident on Red River Street, which resulted in four deaths and injuries to more than 20 others.

“Whenever you have an incident like last year, it makes you look at what you can do to make things safer,” Nanos said. “What is it that we can do to ensure that the safety of the public is met?”

SXSW publicist Elizabeth Derczo said in an email that the City’s changes this year will allow festival-goers to have a more enjoyable experience.

“Safety is, and always has been, a top priority for SXSW,” Derczo said. “We do everything we can to support their efforts.”

This year’s efforts are just the beginning, Manno said. As SXSW becomes an increasingly popular destination, the City will be forced to adapt.

“It’s not just a one-time fix,” Manno said. “It’s a continual fix. We have to continue to look at how to make the event more fun, safer and
more inviting.”

Chad Womack, one of the owners of Bourbon Girl, prepares to open the bar on 6th Street Thursday afternoon. The Bourbon Girl opened Wednesday after waiting months for Yassine Enterprises’ TABC permit to be cancelled so they could obtain one of their own.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Several downtown Austin establishments were given new permits to sell alcohol after their previous tenants were evicted following a high-profile FBI raid and money laundering scandal last year.

The new permits from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which became effective Jan. 9, were given out to the establishments that took the places of bars owned by Yassine Enterprises. Hussein Ali “Mike” Yassine, Yassine Enterprises co-owner and permit holder, was convicted of money laundering in October 2012. 

The new establishments receiving permits from TABC are Bourbon Girl, 413 Bar, Chicago House and Castro’s Warehouse, according to a statement from TABC. These new bars will replace Spill, Treasure Island Pirate Bar, Fuel and Hyde, respectively, and are not affiliated with Yassine Enterprises.

Carmack Concepts, which owns Bourbon Girl in addition to bars including the Chuggin’ Monkey and the Dizzy Rooster, obtained the lease for Bourbon Girl in April 2012 but was forced to wait for Yassine’s permit to be canceled before receiving their own, Jason Carrier, owner of Carmack Concepts, said. Carrier said this delay significantly hampered the opening of their business.

“We could have opened in December,” Carrier said. “But we were at a complete standstill until we finally opened Wednesday night.”

Carrier said there should be new legislation regarding the number of TABC licenses that can be attached to a single address. Currently, only one license may be tied to each address, which can create administrative problems when original tenants have been evicted, Carrier said.

“The license becomes worthless if there’s not a valid lease attached to it,” Carrier said. “If a bar loses its lease, it should make the license null.”

Carolyn Beck, a TABC spokeswoman, said a temporary order was initially filed in March 2012 against eight of the bars owned by Yassine, prohibiting them from buying or selling alcohol on the premises until further action could be taken.

“In February or March, the FBI raided the Yassine locations, and that’s when it started,” Beck said. “It was March 22 when we filed the temporary order.”

Yassine also owned a restaurant, Stack Burger, which was placed under a similar order March 28, Beck stated in a statement. Additional suspensions were placed on the eight bars because of failure to pay taxes to the Office of the Comptroller, the statement read. 

Beck said once Yassine was found guilty of money laundering, it was easier for TABC to successfully have his permits removed.

“Yassine was convicted of crimes in court, so we used that felony conviction as evidence that he could no longer maintain control of those establishments,” Beck said. “By that time, he had already been evicted for nonpayment.”

Music junior Austin Ferguson said bars that closed, such as Kiss & Fly, will be greatly missed by patrons. Ferguson said the news of last year’s money laundering scandal was surprising.

“No matter what had gone on the day/week before, we could always go downtown to Kiss and just have fun without anybody caring our judging us,” Ferguson said. “I always knew the place was a little seedy — what downtown club isn’t? But the extent of what was going on during the day shocked me.”

Printed on Friday, January 18, 2013 as: Former Yassine bars receive permits 

It is often difficult for bartenders to prevent underage drinking. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission enforces steep disincentives for bartenders in an attempt to keep minors away from alcohol. (Photo Illustration)

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is the last installment in a three-part series on underage drinking, focusing on the role of bartenders.

Any system of rules and regulations based on controlling alcohol requires some level of trust between all the players involved.

However, when you’re a bartender you can never fully trust anyone who walks into the bar since they could either be a minor with a fake ID or a cop on a sting operation.

“As a bartender, you’re constantly dealing with situations that can end in fines, community service, jail time or loss of your license and your vote,” said one bartender who has worked downtown and around campus for three months but chose to not be named. “The stakes are extremely high because failure to respect the law results in unfair consequences. It’s not something you want to gamble with.”

While the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the UT Police Department conduct sting operations that take note of Greek life’s events and alcohol-related incident statistics to decide when and where they’ll strike, the bartender is held more liable than the minor.

“The difference between you being fined and going to prison and the bartender being fined and going to prison is if you destroy your ID. The consensus among my [underage] friends in that situation is to get rid of the fake IDs before anyone asked to see them,” added the bartender.

This is where the ability to control the substance fails. A bartender or store owner who serves a minor faces a Class A Misdemeanor with a fine up to, but not exceeding, $4,000 and/or one year in jail. The minor could potentially receive the higher Third Degree Felony if they’re caught with a fake ID that has a penalty of a $10,000 fine and 2 to 10 years in jail. But, if no counterfeit is found on their person, the charge is reduced to the lowest misdemeanor, Class C, and a maximum fine of $500.

Although it was unclear from the interviews conducted how exploited this potential legal loophole is because of the sensitive nature of the issue, current legislation does place more blame on those who would enable a minor to acquire alcohol.

“If there wouldn’t be any adults giving alcohol to minors there would be much fewer of them drinking and fewer deaths,” said Carolyn Beck, TABC director of communications and governmental relations. “I haven’t heard anything about minors destroying the ID, though. Who is the TABC more likely to believe? The bartender or the drunk minor?”

Controlling a substance such as alcohol is extremely difficult, especially in Austin during festivals such as South By Southwest. I know from personal experience that minors have purchased alcohol when bars became inundated with inebriated festival-goers. Bartenders respond that it is difficult to keep up with all of the demands from customers as well as every single law.

There are roughly only 250 TABC agents for the entire state, forcing them to rely on local law enforcement, bartenders and convenience store owners to uphold laws.

In the last round of minor sting operations, where the TABC had minors ages 16 to 18 without IDs attempt to purchase alcohol, there were a total of 9,256 discreet stings from June 15, 2010 to 2011. While that may seem like a lot, Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., has a total of 7,584 currently active retailer licenses.

So, how can we fully regulate and control alcohol? Or any substance for that matter? In Texas, we rely upon those who deal with the daily hand-to-hand transactions and hold them more liable than the minor, a responsibility bartenders and other alcohol purveyors should live up to.

“It’s all a part of the game,” said Paige, a bartender who’s worked downtown since February 2009 but asked for her last name to be withheld. “You must card everyone and know the consequences if you don’t. Either you do that or your ass is on the line.”

Still, bartenders are faced with steep disincentives to keep the substance under control.

“As a bartender, you have to be smart and just assume everyone else is smart,” said the first anonymous bartender. “We don’t want anyone to hurt themselves. This is just our job. We make human errors, though, and I think the system is broken if our customer’s human errors result in unequal punishment. [Bartenders] are agreeing to be arrested for crimes that we’re not trying to commit.”

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Printed on Thursday, August 4, 2011 as: Unequal blame game

Editor’s note: This is a biweekly series that will fill the gaps between Thirsty Thursday Investigates to offer a brief recap and update.

How does alcohol, a controlled and controversial substance, affect everyone in Texas, one of the largest states in the this country?

While that’s too big of a question for one article, Thirsty Thursday Investigates is an attempt to answer that question through multiple miniseries and stand-alone articles for the next couple of months.

Every person in Austin, and Texas, who’s involved with the regulated substance is a character within this ongoing, contemporary story. By uncovering the different viewpoints and motives of these characters, we hope to shed some light on the complicated web that surrounds alcohol production, distribution, regulation and consumption.

Each week is intended to be a small segment within our overall media package of videos and articles, with some of the same voices being continually heard in different episodes to form a pseudo-cast of characters.

Our first mini-series explores the underage drinking culture from the perspective of multiple players: the minors, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, alcohol retailers and bar owners, in order to depict the tensions between their respective motivations to drink, to enforce the law and to profit.

Although total underage drinking numbers are hard to track since it is, by definition, a black market, we began this miniseries, and Thirsty Thursday Investigates, with how most minors first get alcohol — fake IDs. This past week’s article also offered a look at some of the dangers involved with the possession of a fake ID, with distinctions between misdemeanors and felonies.

Next week we’re shifting our tone slightly and asking the law, or the commission, what the reason is behind the minimum drinking age fluctuating between 18 and 21 over the past century and the need for a specific, separate branch of law enforcement.

The final segment of the miniseries will then put all these legal and historical components into play with bar owners and retailers and two types of TABC sting operations. These stings are meant to curb the sale of alcohol to minors from bars and stores as well as confiscate counterfeit identification.

After we’re done with this miniseries on underage drinking, we hope to continue to explore different segments of the alcohol network with more miniseries and stand-alone segments, such as looking into experiments done at the TABC’s lab and learning more about date rape drugs in Austin bars by going under on camera.

Ultimately though, this isn’t a judgement of the substance that affects so many of our lives in positive and negative ways. We still believe sharing a drink with good friends or working in an industry that employs so many and funds much of this state can be a good thing. To put it simply, this overall series is a toast to how just one controversial substance ties together all parts of our entire city and state.

Cheers, and stay thirsty.

Leave us a tip at thirstyatx@gmail.com

Four days after the federal government banned popular caffeine-alcohol brews such as Four Loko, University police have not noticed an unusual amount of wild binge drinking and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is passively enforcing the ban. For retailers, the commission is currently enforcing a voluntary removal policy of alcoholic energy drinks such as Four Loko, Joose, Max, MoonShot and others, meaning it will soon begin taking witness reports of retailers selling the beverages and inspecting conspicuous stores. Dexter Jones, TABC assistant chief of compliance, said retailers that will not voluntarily comply will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and inspected as necessary. Jones said there will likely be retailers that continue to sell the banned beverages. “I’m sure there probably will be some,” Jones said. “However, we have identified about 12,000 retailers that are taking the initiative to comply with our request. In Texas, several caffeinated malt alcoholic beverages are still allowed to be sold, including 3Sum, Crunk Juice, Evil Eye, Liquid Charge, Riccochet and Rize. Based on a charge that the drinks have an unsafe food additive, it is illegal to ship the banned drinks over state lines or sell them at retail stores. Individuals in possession of the products will not be charged with violating the federal ban, said UTPD officer Darrell Halstead. He did not expect a large amount of binge drinking to result from the ban, but when individuals drink the alcoholic caffeinated beverages excessively, they can become aggressive, he said. “If someone wants [Four Loko and similar beverages], they’re going to get them,” Halstead said. Customers can still get Four Loko at Double R Grocery on MLK Boulevard, where manager Brian Anderson said the ban is a ridiculous federal overreach. Anderson said it would be compared to banning vodka and Red Bull, and that Anheuser-Busch would compensate him for any product that he would be forced to destroy. “I’m not a vodka-Red Bull fan, and I’ve only had one Four Loko, but I couldn’t tell much of a difference,” he said. Across the street at a Conoco gas station, Four Lokos and Joose sit in an ice container. Josefato Moraes, an employee at the station, said the station would remove the product Tuesday afternoon. Chris Joffrion, a biology junior, said he stocked up on Four Loko this weekend after he heard they were going to be banned, even though several stores around his West Campus apartment were sold out of the products. “They were completely wiped out around here,” he said. “I guess when we run out, we’ll have to go to something else.”

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The makers of the popular caffeinated alcoholic drink Four Loko announced Tuesday that they would remove caffeine and other stimulants from their products. Phusion Projects made the announcement after it became apparent the Food and Drug Administration would rule caffeine is an unsafe additive to alcoholic beverages.

The three founders of Phusion Projects insisted that Four Loko and other alcoholic energy drinks were still safe but acknowledged the products had received increased scrutiny recently. Four states have banned caffeinated alcoholic beverages such as Four Loko and Joose.

“We are taking this step after trying — unsuccessfully — to navigate a difficult and politically charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels,” the statement said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who has lobbied state and federal authorities to ban the drinks, announced in a statement that the FDA will make the ruling today, effectively banning the drinks. The Federal Trade Commission will also notify manufacturers that they must cease production of distribution of the beverages.

“This ruling should be the nail in the coffin of these dangerous and toxic drinks,” he said in a statement. “Parents should be able to rest a little easier knowing that soon their children won’t have access to this deadly brew.”

One can of Four Loko contains the equivalent of two to three cans of beer and two to three cups of coffee, according to Schumer’s website.

The media buzz surrounding caffeinated alcoholic beverages led the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to discuss an action plan to regulate drink sales said spokeswoman Carolyn Beck.

Beck said TABC will do as mandated by the FDA once a law is in effect because the administration has deemed the drinks hazardous.

“If FDA makes the decision, there will be a quick turnaround,” she said.

The TABC would post bulletins online and e-mail notifications to permitted merchants.

She said although the commission did not begin discussing pulling the drinks as a result of any particular case, they are taking recent incidents into account. A 14-year-old girl died in a car crash Sunday in Denton. Police reported five empty Four Loko cans in the car, which her boyfriend was driving, indicating the drink may have contributed to the fatal crash.

The bright and eye-catching cans and the fruity flavor of the actual drink suggest an appeal to younger consumers, said advertising associate professor Marina Choi.

“I can’t say whether or not that was their angle, but their design and marketing strategy would suggest that they are targeting a younger audience,” Choi said.