Beer pong tournaments on hold

Courtesy photo Clovis beer pong tournaments at drinking establishments are on hold pending the outcome of an evaluation by the state’s alcohol and gaming division to determine if it’s a game of skill or chance.

Sharna Johnson

The question at hand is whether it’s skill or chance that gets the little white ball across the table and into the cup.

If you ask beer pong players, they will tell you most definitely skill. But the state of New Mexico isn’t so sure.

The Alcohol and Gaming Division said Thursday it is evaluating organized beer pong tournaments being held in local establishments licensed to serve alcohol to determine where the game fits under statute.

Originated as a party game, beer pong players toss a ping pong ball from a marked distance toward water-filled cups.

Clovis promoter Elliott Fite said the game is gaining momentum as a legitimate game of skill comparable to darts or pool. He said there’s even an annual beer pong world series hosted in Las Vegas.

In New Mexico, if it’s a game of chance and money is involved, it’s gambling. It’s not gambling if it’s a game of skill.

Yet another issue for the state is if the game promotes risky drinking practices.

“It’s not regulated. There’s nothing on the books that says (anything about beer pong) that’s why we have to look to evaluate it,” said Gary Tomada, alcohol and gaming division director.

“We have to look at the type of (drinking practices) that beer pong creates or exacerbates … We’re all about health safety and welfare. We have to balance the health safety and welfare of the citizens of New Mexico along with the economic viability of the industry.”

And if it’s determined to be gambling, there’s no room for it in New Mexico, he said, explaining gambling laws cannot be expanded because of agreements between the state and tribes.

Tomada said he is meeting with his council today and hopes to have a decision on the fate of beer pong by Monday.

Meanwhile, Clovis bar co-owner Jeanne Kelley said she was told Thursday to stop all weekly beer pong tournaments at Kelley’s Bar & Grill by agents from Department of Public Safety’s Special Investigations Division.

But nobody in the state is taking responsibility for stopping the games.

The decision to stop beer pong did not come from SID, it came from alcohol and gaming, according to NMDPS spokesman Lt. Eric Garcia.

But Tomada said it isn’t his agency. They are evaluating the issue but haven’t intervened.

“It’s coming from SID. The SID division is asking us whether or not this is a game of skill or a game of chance,” Tomada said Thursday afternoon.

Tomada said there have been no citations issued and it’s not even classified as a case because the division doesn’t know where the game fits.

“We had never seen this (before), this is the first,” he said. “We would be remiss if we automatically approved something we didn’t know about.”

Regardless of who’s responsible for ending the games, they are off. Kelley said she hopes beer pong can continue.

She said the game draws a fun, well-behaved crowd and keeps the bar busy on Thursday nights.

“It helps business (and) they just have fun … It’s no big drunk thing, they all just take it so serious — they play to win,” she said.

“This is pretty unique. We have done pool tournaments in the past and I don’t see a lot of difference in a pool tournament and beer pong.”

Fite said his group started informally about three years ago but, because of growing interest, started hosting organized tournaments and is now networked as a league with other players nationwide.

For about a year, the tournaments have been held at Kelley’s and about a dozen of the more serious players have gone on to play in Las Vegas, Fite said.

In Clovis tournaments, two person teams pay an entry fee up to $10 and play double elimination games. First place and second place winners split the prize money drawn from the entry fees.

Fite said he does receive a promoters fee from the bar to cover his costs but all entry fees are converted to prize money.

When the games started among friends, Fite said the cups were filled with beer, but over time as more players joined in and the skill levels increased, he said they replaced the beer with water.

Now they follow the World Series of Beer Pong rules and many approach it with a professional outlook on the game. Some players even have their own tables at home and practice throughout the week.

“I’m sure the NFL players would say they have fun too. We love the game. It’s really not about alcohol for us,” the 27-year-old said.

“When we very first started, we were mirroring ourselves against other groups around the country. I wanted to make sure we were all on the up and up … We’ve never had a fight. This national level of play that were associated with, we’ve never had law enforcement issues.”

Fite said the core group of original players has retreated to private play until the issue is resolved.