A Cabot movie theater will now be able to sell beer and wine despite some public opposition, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division's board decided Wednesday.
The board unanimously overturned the September decision by agency Director Mary Robin Casteel, who denied the private-club permit application from Cabot 8 VIP Cinema because of "significant public opposition."
"We're going to move forward," said James Smith, the theater's owner, in an interview after the meeting.
Cabot is in Lonoke County, which is "dry," meaning that the law forbids the sale of any kind of alcoholic beverage. However, alcohol can be sold by establishments that are designated as private clubs by the regulatory agency.
The opposition to the theater's permit came in the form of a petition with about 730 signatures as well as several letters.
But the theater had public support. The Cabot City Council voted 5-3 in July to urge the alcohol-control agency to approve the permit. Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley notified the agency that he had no objections.
Measures will be put into place to curb over-consumption by patrons and to prevent minors from obtaining alcohol, Smith said.
The concession counter will be divided and a separate cash register will be used solely for the sale of alcohol. The beer and wine will be stored in individual-serving bottles, he said.
"We will not have a bar. We will not have taps. We will not have kegs," Smith said.
Patrons who wish to buy alcohol will be fitted with a paper armband after their identification has been scanned. Each drink purchase will be marked by a rubber stamp on the patron's hand.
Board member Mickey Powell asked Smith to institute a drink limit at the theater to prevent customers from becoming inebriated.
"OK," Smith said. "We can have a two-drink limit."
Smith said he has fielded numerous requests for alcohol to be added to the theater's offerings.
"If you're going to be in the entertainment business and showing movies, you have to offer what the customer and the community demands," Smith said. "This has been the arc in my industry."
In what was at times a combative exchange Wednesday, Doug Hatcher of Ward told the board that if it approved the permit, he would file a petition to repeal the ordinance.
"If you approve this, you set a precedent," Hatcher said, adding that he had letters from pastors representing more than 4,500 congregants opposed to allowing alcohol at the theater.
"If you guys reject it, I'm not going to put the city through the cost of an election," Hatcher said. "If you grant him this permit, we're going to let the people decide."
Powell pointed out Act 1112 of 2017, sponsored by then-Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot. The law allows those seeking a permit for a private club to first get permission from the local governing body where the club will be.
"In order for a private club to come before this board up here, it has to be reviewed and approved by duly elected officials," Powell said. "And I would think the City Council of Cabot knows more about what the citizens of that city want than this board will ever know."
If Hatcher is successful at putting the issue before Cabot voters and they vote to reverse the city ordinance, it does not necessarily mean the board's decision would be null and void, Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin said Wednesday.
"This is new territory as it is not an issue [Alcoholic Beverage Control] has encountered in the past. Upon receiving all required notices regarding this application along with additional information, the City Council recorded its support for the application," Hardin said. "The applicant also met all requirements, which resulted in the board approving the permit today. It would not be accurate to assume a local referendum would immediately nullify a state-issued license. This is an issue that would require further analysis."
Hatcher told the board that the majority of the theater's patrons are children and will be exposed to the long-lasting effects of alcohol.
"How many of these kids are going to become alcoholics?" he said. "This is a dangerous situation and we should treat it as such."
Smith, the theater's owner, said the other theaters he operates around the state -- including those in Little Rock and Hot Springs -- have never been cited for selling alcohol to minors.
Metro on 10/11/2018
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