Liquor Control Board Advisory Opinions
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board would probably never be voted “Most Popular” state agency. Obviously, there are a lot of criticisms hurled its way; however, one thing I think it does better than most state agencies is it provides good access to its information, especially legal information. For example, on its website it provides links to frequently asked questions, important notices and the full texts of the Liquor Code and the LCB’s regulations (this may seem like it should be obvious, but other agencies are horrible at providing access to their legal information). While much of this guidance, especially the Code and regulations, may seem hard to decipher, the LCB also allows the public to access its database of Advisory Opinions, which are generally much easier to understand. Although the LCB is required by law to provide the opinions, the fact that they are available to the public in a searchable database is a great resource. For those unfamiliar with the Advisory Opinions, essentially, anyone holding any type of liquor license (or their representative) can submit a question or set of questions to the LCB asking for guidance on certain issues. The LCB will then review the situation and provide a response generally indicating whether it believes the action is permissible or impermissible or otherwise advising the licensee on what to do.
The real benefit to the Advisory Opinions is that if the LCB determines in the opinion that something is permissible, that decision is binding upon the State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement – meaning that as long as the licensee acts in accordance with the advice of the Advisory Opinion, it cannot be prosecuted for that action. The Advisory Opinions are limited to the party and the facts submitted, so they cannot necessarily be relied upon by other licensees. Accordingly, even if you see an Advisory Opinion that resembles the situation you are facing, it is probably best to seek your own Opinion.
The questions/issues raised in Advisory Opinions range from the ability to hold beer pong tournaments to shareholder issues. The issue raised with the most frequency, however, seems to be large alcohol manufacturers asking the LCB to approve its sweepstakes/contests.
If you are a licensee who has a question about whether something is permissible under the Liquor Laws of Pennsylvania, you should consider requesting an Advisory Opinion or at least searching through the database as prior opinions may point you in the right direction. As an ongoing part of this blog, we will also review recent advisory opinions and discuss them here.