Alcoholic Beverage Control Board considers denying Alaska State Fair alcohol license

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — The Alaska Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office is considering denying the Alaska State Fair's recreational license to serve alcohol as a result of a poor fitting state statute and inaction by the Alaska Legislature to carve out an exception for the State Fair.

AMCO Director Erika McConnell said at a board meeting on Monday that of the 11 licensed premises on the Alaska State Fairgrounds, only one or two locations actually meet the definition of a recreational site according to state law.

State statute defines a recreational site as "a location where baseball games, car races, hockey games, dog sled racing events, or curling matches are regularly held during a season."

While McConnell's official recommendation was to deny the renewal of the State Fair recreational site license, she agreed with the motion to delay action on the license pending a potential legislative fix.

ABC Board Chair Robert Klein suggested that keeping the license in limbo may push the legislature into action.

"Given the popularity of this event, there is merit to holding this license hostage for some action from the legislature," Klein said. "They had an opportunity to decide this last year and the year before and they didn't. There's a large constituency that this fair has, and if we can bring that to bear and get some action, I see nothing wrong with that."

Some board members also considered taking the step of denying the license to push lawmakers into action, but others hesitated to use a licensee as a proxy to spur the legislature into action.

"We shouldn't use this vendor as leverage against the legislature to get them to be proactive in moving something," said Public Safety Member Rex Leath. "I think if we have an issue with what we think is a time delay to getting something moved through the legislature, we should approach the legislature with that issue — not manipulate a license and therefore penalize a licensee because of it."

No representatives of the Alaska State Fair were present at the meeting, but in a statement to Channel 2 News, Alaska State Fair General Manager Jerome Hertel says that while there isn't currently a license type that fits the business model of The Fair, management is working to stay in compliance with local, state and federal laws.

"We are actively working with and will continue to cooperate with the ABC Board towards a positive outcome and fully anticipate being able to offer the same level of service to our guests as we have in the past," Hertel said. "We applaud the efforts of the ABC Board and AMCO Director in finding a permanent solution that enables the Fair to meet the requirements of the law."

Sarah Oates, President & CEO of Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant & Retailers Association (CHARR), who spoke on behalf of several licensees at Monday's board meeting, argued that Alaska State Fair does qualify for a recreational site license.

"Two years ago, the board did assess their written statement and determine that because they held rodeos, they have the Scottish Highland Games and now they've added roller derby which is a regular event like a hockey game, that they do meet the qualifications for a rec site license," Oates said.

Oates added that the State Fair is also pursuing a license under a proposed "alternating premises concept," as well as working with lawmakers on a potential legislative fix, and urged the ABC Board to renew the license Monday.

McConnell suggested that if the board agreed that rodeos, the Scottish Highland Games and Roller Derby met the definition of recreational sites, that the recreational site license be limited to those events.

The board voted to postpone consideration of the license renewal until ABC's next meeting to allow the Alaska State Fair to weigh in on potential alternative licensing mechanisms.

ABC's next meeting will take place in Juneau in February.