A bipartisan N.C. House bill that would allow state universities to sell beer and wine on game days is headed to the N.C. Senate floor for a vote.
The Senate Rules and Operations committee recommended House Bill 389 on Thursday, the final of three committee steps in the chamber.
The House approved the bill by an 88-24 vote April 16. The bill is listed on the Senate chamber floor agenda for Monday. The bill would become law upon Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature.
Current state law prohibits sales and consumption of alcohol except in certain areas of Kenan Stadium at UNC Chapel Hill and Carter-Finley Stadium at N.C. State University.
The bill would expand alcohol sales and consumption to all campus stadiums, arenas and athletics facilities. The bill does not apply to community colleges.
Only beer and wine would be allowed at sporting events. Beer, wine and mixed drinks would be available at nonsports events if vendors have the correct permits.
It would require alcohol to be sold in designated areas that allow vendors to control sales, including checking for identification to prevent sales to underage fans. Universities could set up designated alcohol-consumption and alcohol-free areas.
Each university’s board of trustees would have to vote to allow such sales, as well as on whether beer and wine could be consumed in the stands or just in designated areas, according to Jimmy Milstead, the communications director for House majority leader John Bell, a Johnston County Republican who is the bill’s primary sponsor.
State Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Buncombe, said it is likely that East Carolina University, N.C. State and UNC Chapel Hill would be early adopters of new or expanded sales.
Of the 15 state universities, only UNC Pembroke has not indicated support for the bill, according to bill sponsors.
“It appears likely that most of the schools would at least consider offering alcohol sales,” said Mitch Kokai, a senior policy analyst with the John Locke Foundation, a conservative-leaning research group. “Those campuses will weigh the benefits of the additional revenue against any costs linked to new enforcement measures against underage drinking.”
Appalachian State University, N.C. A&T State University and UNC Greensboro have had athletics department personnel at previous committee meetings on HB389.
Rick Steinbacher, senior associate athletic director at UNC-CH with marketing and corporate sponsorships, told committee members that UNC’s support for the bill stems from two main reasons: the ability to control sales though a third-party vendor and meeting fan expectations.
An amendment to the bill approved Wednesday would allow Winston-Salem State University to sell beer and wine in selected areas even though it plays football at Bowman Gray Stadium, which is owned by the city of Winston-Salem.
City Manager Lee Garrity said the city’s concessionaire already sells beer in a beer garden area during auto racing at the stadium.
“If WSSU wants to offer the same option to their fans, the city will make those arrangements,” Garrity said.
Mayor Allen Joines said he had “full confidence in the administration at WSSU to handle this issue appropriately.”
“It has worked well at other venues where college athletic events are held, so I can understand WSSU’s desire to have this option,” Joines said.
Wake Forest University, a private school, began selling beer and wine at BB&T Field and Joel Coliseum in 2016 in response to fan requests.
Legislative opponents of the bill have cited concerns about families being subjected to more fans consuming alcohol, some of whom may become belligerent, or alcohol sales becoming such a revenue driver that it may affect or dictate other public-policy issues.
The Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League has spoken in opposition to the bill at each committee step.
On Thursday, Creech said in what he called his last appeal that the universities should show they can “make a dent in college binge drinking” before adding ways to sell and consumer alcohol.
Both Edwards and state Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said they expect alcohol sales inside the sports venues to be limited in nature, in part because those likely to buy it probably drank alcohol while tailgating before games.
The bill has been amended to deal with “best practices” concerns, such as allowing state Alcohol Law Enforcement personnel to inspect third-party vendors’ services and permit enforcement.
Vendors would not be permitted to sell alcohol to individuals considered to be intoxicated when entering the vending area.