Cheaper liquor license brings closer scrutiny

Darrell Todd Maurina

Agent Todd Griffin said some people don’t understand why private clubs need to be careful about who they serve. Griffin said the main reason is that the liquor licenses held by most private clubs in New Mexico allow them to operate at a much lower cost and avoid restrictions on how many public drinking establishments may exist in a community.
“In New Mexico, dispenser’s licenses and retailer’s licenses are limited: A community cannot have more than one dispenser and/or retailer per 2,000 residents,” Griffin said. “Clubs aren’t under that restriction, but they can’t sell packaged liquor.”
While private clubs with more than 250 members pay only a $1,250 annual renewal fee and clubs with 50 to 250 members pay even lower fees of $250 per year, Griffin said the dispenser’s licenses held by bars typically cost about $260,000 when one license holder sells his right to serve alcohol to a new bar owner.
Griffin said the complaints against private clubs often come from bar owners who are unhappy that a private club is allowing non-members to be served alcohol.
“Because the private clubs are closed-door, out of sight, we don’t focus on them as much,” Griffin said. “But it doesn’t matter if you are a restaurant, a bar, a wholesaler, a retailer, a private club, you will be checked to see if you are in compliance.”
Griffin said state officials have tried to be accommodating to requests from private clubs to allow them to promote themselves more effectively.
“A few years ago, Sen. Dianna Duran out of Alamogordo proposed a bill that would allow private clubs to be open to the public on two occasions in a calendar year as long as it was a fundraising event for a different organization, so the Elks Lodge could hold a benefit for the Diabetes Association,” Griffin said.
“It would help the club to draw people in who were not members, so they passed that exemption for them so they can do that, but they have to first get a permit from the state alcohol and gaming division.”