The Law: At any of the following locations, it is unlawful for any person to drink an alcoholic beverage or to possess an open container of alcoholic beverage which was purchased in an original sealed or corked container:
(1) Upon any premises, including the parking lot, of an establishment which is licensed only for the off-sale or the on-off-sale of alcoholic beverages;
(2) Upon property, other than residential property, located within one thousand feet of an establishment which is licensed for off-sale or on-off-sale; or
(3) Upon property, other than residential property or property … located within one thousand feet of a church, synagogue, public or private school, hospital, special care facility, withdrawal management facility or homeless shelter.
Metro officers are writing many, many tickets for people drinking on Fremont Street.
Metro doesn’t have the number of citations issued just over the July 19-20 weekend, but observers said they saw officers writing dozens of tickets for people with open containers of beer, mixed drinks, cider, wine, straight liquor, moonshine or Sterno.
“There were quite a bit of citations being issued out there,” said Public Information Officer Jose Hernandez.
Dayvid Figler, a sharp-eyed lawyer who sometimes appears on national television programs discussing the law and Las Vegas, said he saw Metro officers write about 100 citations.
On the weekend of July 26-28, people were being cited for carrying open containers, bottles or cans. By 10:30 p.m. Saturday night, police had a large and growing pile of emptied bottles and a thick book of tickets to show for their effort.
However, people were not getting cited for carrying drinks in plastic containers — beer or mixed drinks — from the Fremont Street Experience back to the Fremont East district. Similarly, a steady stream of people were carrying drinks out of the El Cortez in glasses and plastic cups, walking by the police with nary a complaint. Full wine glasses were being confiscated.
That’s all quite confusing for one state employee who received a citation. We’ll call him “Jimmy” since he is sincerely hoping the ticket doesn’t go on his permanent record.
Jimmy said he didn’t know he was violating the rules on a recent July weekend when he and a friend were written up by a “frazzled” Metro officer.
“He looked really upset,” Jimmy said. “He looked frazzled and upset. He said he didn’t enjoy writing them [the tickets].”
Jimmy, who’s 40, said he’s spent many weekends drinking a beer on Fremont Street in the past, and he doesn’t understand why it suddenly seemed to become a civil offense. He doesn’t know how much the ticket is for, and he doesn’t understand why he and his friend, who is in his 30s, were ticketed while other people around them were not.
The Metro officer “did ask us where we got it from. If I said I got it from the bar right there, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a ticket,” Jimmy said, referring to a potential ambiguity in the law. (He told CityLife he bought his beer just a block west, at a variety store on Fremont Street.) “Before it was like the whole area, you had permission to drink beer. Now all of the sudden, they’re not letting people. … I wouldn’t have done this if I knew it was against the law.”
Those ticketed could end up paying $200 plus costs, and might have to come into Las Vegas Municipal Court. Jimmy is still trying to find out if he will be permanently marked as a scofflaw, and he’s worried about the court date scheduled for Aug. 28.
He insists that there was no manifest reason why they should have been singled out.
“We were totally peaceful, pretty straightlaced. Not stumbling or anything.”
Jimmy and his friend may swear off downtown altogether, a move that will not put money into the hands of the business owners on Fremont Street who are demanding the stepped-up enforcement of the open-container rules.
He’s not alone. One young man named Alex was waiting for a friend to be cited last Saturday night while holding his own ticket. He said he might stop coming downtown.
Michael Cornthwaite is one of those who has invested in the revival of Fremont Street. His Downtown Cocktail Room is one of the hippest drinking spots in Las Vegas, with one of the hardest-to-find front doors. Across the street, his The Beat coffee shop in the Emergency Arts Center serves beer and wine after 7 p.m. He clearly has an interest in keeping the street safe.
He said the law is simple.
“A packaged booze product cannot be opened within 1,000 feet of any licensed establishment, including the place they bought it,” Cornthwaite said. Further, the tavern licenses only allow on-premise alcohol consumption, which means that liquor and beer can’t leave the bar, he said.
So Metro officers will be looking for people carrying open containers this week. Combined with a stepped-up effort to crack down on potential violent offenders and underaged drinking, and visitors to Fremont on First Friday — or any day — might want to avoid drinking outside the bars.
Cornthwaite said confusion should soon be eased even as the wave of citations keeps crashing on Fremont visitors.
“Everyone is trying to get the word out,” he said. “In the future cops will know that any drink walking around the street is packaged (and therefore subject to a citation) because the bars won’t allow drinks to be removed.”
However, drinks carried over from the Fremont Street Experience or from the El Cortez don’t appear to be covered by the law, at least at this point.
Some recent moves by the city and the Downtown Project, which, like the Rangers, is a project helmed by Tony Hsieh, threaten to complicate the situation even more. Downtown Project is asking that alcohol sales be legal in the Container Park now being constructed at Seventh Street and Fremont., even though there will be amenities there designed for children.
One wag recently noted that trailer parks also allow drinking on-site in the proximity of children, but that doesn’t make them safer. In the design illustrations posted by the Downtown Project, the one-block square would be fenced in, however, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that alcohol will move off-site, but it’s another factor.
(Downtown Project spokeswoman Kim Schaefer declined comment on the alcohol issues, referring questions to Metro.)
Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin supports the Container Park alcohol sales. He said that there is some confusion around alcohol sales downtown now, but he predicted that they will get worked out. A group of stakeholders is meeting on the issue now, he said.
“I think we’re going to have a big meeting on this … as we figure out what the problems are,” Coffin said. “We have dueling ordinances. We encouraged alcohol use, now we have to make sure it is used responsibly.”
Hernandez, with Metro, urged people to keep it simple, keep the liquor in the bars, and avoid getting a ticket.
“Until some of these issues are worked out, if you’re going to have a drink stay in the establishment and don’t walk around with it.”