Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a semimonthly, three-part series of Thirsty Thursday Investigates underage drinking focusing on counterfeit identification. Check back next week for a brief update and video preview of the following week’s investigation.
When a minor tries to buy a drink on Sixth Street it’s like trying to cheat at Blackjack in a Vegas casino. Puns about the number 21 aside, the players are the minors trying to beat the liquor dealers. The house is the law enforcement who patrols the tables like the big, burly security guard and tries to make sure no one’s running a scam with the dealers.
The only thing you need to play the game is a little bit of money to buy in — or a fake ID.
A minor with a fake or a bartender serving a minor with a fake, it’s all one big gamble. You never want to walk away from any table with less than what you came in with; you never want to get caught, fined or jailed because then you would lose the game.
But, it’s also in the dealers’ best interest to keep you in for as long as possible before they also get busted. The point is that everyone is looking for a cut of the winnings. Minors get to drink, and the people who sell it to them get to profit.
Just take a look at the excise taxes and you can get a sense of what businesses are grossing before taxes. Last month, beer sales provided $9,810,037 in excise taxes of $0.194 per gallon, the lowest tax rate of the four alcohol categories in Texas: distilled spirits, wine, beer and ale. (Only Texas law uses the term “beer and ale” to distinguish between below and above 4 percent alcohol by weight).
And while the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code does provide a loophole for bar owners who serve minors with a fake, it’s not a big loophole. Take a look at Title 4, Chapter 106, Section 106.03 (b).
“A person who sells a minor an alcoholic beverage does not commit an offense if the minor falsely represents himself to be 21 years old or older by displaying an apparently valid proof of identification that contains a physical description and photograph consistent with the minor’s appearance, purports to establish that the minor is 21 years of age or older, and was issued by a governmental agency.”
Meaning that if a bar is letting in people that are supposedly 5’1” when they’re really 6’1,” then they’re liable. That’s why the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and sites such as eHow suggest you double check the ID and ask questions to throw the person off, such as, “What’s your zodiac sign?” Nevertheless, that doesn’t deter people wanting to cash in on the underage drinking market.
If you’re the minor with a fake, you could face anything from a low class C misdemeanor to a higher third degree felony. That means anything from a maximum $500 fine for underage drinking to maximum $10,000 fine with two to 10 years of imprisonment in a state penitentiary. It just depends upon the case, your profile and whether or not you would make a good example.
If you’re the one selling it to the minor, then you’re looking at the highest misdemeanor one can get, Class A with a $4,000 fine and a possible one year in jail on top of that.
Once the dealer and the minor’s game is up, it’s the house’s turn to make sure no one even enters the “casino” with a fake ID. And even though they get to collect all the revenues from the fines, keep in mind that a fully staffed, trained and equipped enforcement agency comes at a high price.
In April 2009, the Department of Public Safety changed the Texas drivers license to more clearly distinguish the real from the counterfeit. While they would not disclose all of their techniques used, dubious websites such as newidcards.com, offer what they claim are novelty ID cards for every state including Texas. The site’s phone number is listed with an international country code tracing back to the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom.
While the Department of Public Safety did not respond by press time when questioned about this website in particular, they were able to say that they’ve done everything from major sting operations to prosecuting individuals for scanning drivers licenses in their dorm room.
“[The number of fake IDs] has gone down,” said Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the DPS. “[Counterfeiters] don’t get caught because they’re smart.”
Still, that doesn’t account for small-scale fake ID distribution. There’s little way of policing a minor who asks a friend for their brother or sisters old ID. And on a Saturday night, with people waiting in line on Sixth Street, thoroughly checking everyone’s ID while running crowd control becomes a hassle.
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Printed on 07/07/2011 as: Underage drinkers wager on fooling the brewhouse Updated on 07/10/2011 at 4:09 p.m.: Beer and ale distinguished by alcohol by weight, not volume