Some city and state lawmakers hope new proposals to change liquor licensing laws will accommodate

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) sits at his desk just before the start of Tuesday’s business during the 2022 Wyoming Legislature budget session in Cheyenne. Zwonitzer is the chairman of the Joint Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions Committee, which spoke with Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins about possible new liquor licensing legislation at the committee’s meeting last month in Hulett. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CHEYENNE, Wyo.– Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins has made it clear that he wants to see the state of Wyoming make changes to its current liquor licensing laws.

And after a full liquor retail licensing dispute earlier this year in the capital, which saw 11 different entities vying for a single available pricethere’s been a recent call to action — and some in power across the state are joining in.

Liquor licenses were on the agenda (and Collins was present) at the last meeting of joint corporations, elections and political subdivisions of the Wyoming legislature last month in Hulett, with conversations and deliberations which culminated in the committee asking the Office of Legislative Services to draft four new pieces of possible legislation directly affecting the subject.

According to committee chair and Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne), the four ideas include adding a new type of license, increasing the license application fee, requiring an existing license to be returned to a city or town when not in use (thus removing the private market) and adjusting the population formula for how municipalities receive more bar and grill licenses.

The new licensing proposal – aimed at businesses where entertainment and food would account for 60% of revenue – would perhaps have the most direct impact by allowing establishments to sell alcohol without the many constraints of other licenses. Collins originally mooted the idea of ​​a “tavern” license that would essentially allow businesses to open a bar on-site with few other conditions, but conversations with the committee ultimately led to the current proposal.

Although Collins said he appreciated the time given to him to speak to the committee, he nonetheless found himself “a bit frustrated” that the formula for adding full retail liquor licenses had not changed, nor that the idea of ​​a “tavern” was put forward. the purpose of the proposed legislation.

“Retail liquor licenses give you three things: you can have a bar, you can sell liquor as a package, and you can supply liquor on your premises,” Collins said. “What we thought was if we took a third of that – the bar aspect – we would call it a tavern license.

“The [Old Cheyenne Elevator project], they weren’t really looking to do anything other than open it up as a bar and serve food trucks there. This license, a tavern, would have really helped this situation.

However, there are Cheyenne businesses that Collins said would welcome the proposed license. He specifically mentioned the future Ace’s Range at 1505 Pioneer Ave. downtown with its planned golf simulators and virtual shooting ranges offering more of an entertainment product than a traditional bar. Ace’s Range applied for but did not receive the full retail liquor license that was up for grabs earlier this year in Cheyenne, but noted on its website that it plans to open in October.

Coming down to building and maintaining the state’s tourism sector — Wyoming’s No. 2 industry — Collins said he wants to see the state’s cities thrive and believes the availability of liquor license played a role in it. For him, it also helps keep Cheyenne a fun and fresh place.

“I think of towns like Jackson and Cody, Pinedale, Saratoga…there are a lot of people there, and limiting liquor licenses hurts them because now you have long lines and wait times in this kind of places,” Collins said. “We had 1.2 million people stay overnight at a Cheyenne hotel last year, so we have the same. …And I think that’s a very important consideration when we’re talking about retaining employees and the workforce [to] kind of creating that kind of environment where there’s a lot of fun things to do.

Zwonitzer said his colleagues are interested in progress in terms of simplifying licensing laws for entertainment venues — as well as other hurdles he says impact business in the state — but he also expects some resistance from those in other regions who might be against more. alcohol circulating in Wyoming.

The goal then, he said, is not to take the proposals too far and lose support that way, although he said the committee members around him all seem agree with the belief that change must come in one form or another.

“The committee members that I have are all in communities that I think are on the same page that we need to do something,” Zwonitzer said. “But I’m not convinced, if it went to another committee, [that] these legislators are in the same spirit. … Cheyenne needs it, Laramie needs it, but [if] you start talking to Sweetwater County or Crook County or whatever it is in Bighorn Basin, they’re going to say, “No, we don’t need more booze, we don’t need to do these things,” and it’s going to be a test.

“That’s my other thing I’m looking for is to make sure it’s justifiable and that we can move the ball down the pitch because I think if we try to push too far we’re only going to get nothing.”

Zwonitzer sees the proposals as just part of an ongoing evolution in the state of licensing types and how they are implemented, citing microbrewery licensing as an earlier example. But he said conversations are expected to continue at the committee’s next meeting next month in Saratoga – and that deliberations on what to do will remain.

“I think that’s something important to look at and really discuss what we want in Wyoming when it comes to the amount of alcohol — and [if] you have to have alcohol in every establishment — to have a good time,” Zwonitzer said. “I don’t know, but I think that’s the next discussion we’ll have in August.”

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