Joe Downtown: What you need to know about popping a beer downtown
The general rule when drinking downtown (or anywhere) is don’t be a sloppy, loud-mouthed drunk.
But beyond that, there remains much confusion as to where you can walk on Fremont Street with an alcoholic beverage in your hand.
VEGAS INC set out to clarify the law.
Buying from a casino
If you buy a drink from any of the big casinos downtown, you can drink it anywhere.
That's because the resorts and their bars carry tavern licenses.
“Buy a beer in a casino, you can walk anywhere with it,” city attorney Brad Jerbic said. “That’s what you get with a tavern license.”
Buying from a bar
If you buy a drink from a “tavern-limited” business — which includes most of the bars on East Fremont Street, such as the Griffin, Vanguard Lounge, Insert Coin(s) and Beauty Bar — you must drink it on the property where you bought it.
Tavern-limited businesses pay a lower licensing fee and have stricter requirements than businesses with tavern licenses. No walking out of the business with the drink.
Buying from a liquor store
If you buy a drink from a liquor store, regardless of whether the beverage is beer, wine or liquor, the container can’t be opened or consumed within 1,000 feet of the store. That includes the parking lot.
It also can’t be consumed within 1,000 feet of a church, synagogue, public or private school, hospital, special care facility, withdrawal management facility or homeless shelter.
If you are 1,001 feet away from such facilities, drinking is fair game.
Practically speaking, however, the law essentially prohibits drinking packaged alcohol under the Fremont Street canopy or in the Fremont East District since it's almost impossible to get more than 1,000 feet away from a liquor store in the main tourist areas.
Bringing booze from home
City law doesn’t address whether you can drink an alcoholic beverage you brought from home downtown.
If it is in a cup, it appears to be fair game.
But keeping it in the bottle or can could cause problems since you can't drink packaged alcohol in the vicinity of liquor stores, schools and other protected facilities, and downtown if full of them.
Getting a ticket
Even if you break the open container laws and get ticketed by Metro Police, chances are you won’t be prosecuted.
That’s because in order to pursue a case, prosecutors need to know where your drink was purchased, and that information is rarely provided in arrest reports, Jerbic said.
He recently reviewed more than 200 citations issued since January, and in almost all cases, he said, the city has not prosecuted them because incomplete information was provided.
“If Metro sees you walking with a beer, I need to know where you got it,” Jerbic said. “If it’s from the (Golden) Nugget, fine. If from a packaged liquor store, it’s not fine."
Police who order revelers to pour out their drinks also aren’t following the rules.
“That is not the law,” Jerbic said.
A committee of city lawyers, planners, the mayor and community members are looking into safety downtown, including whether to streamline drinking laws. One of the possibilities they are considering is creating a common consumption area, outside of which drinking would not be permitted.
Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.