Admittedly, for laws about something so intoxicating, most of N.C. General Statutes 18B (that’s the rules on alcohol, natch) makes dull reading. The vast majority of the statutes do things like define the exact type of ballot used in an ABC election, the alcohol rules for a scenic highway or the exact definition of “keg” (7.75 gallons or more).
And there’s no booze at the bingo game.
Yes, dear reader, that is the law. So if, in a time of tanking economy, your savings plan involves becoming a bingo shark, you cannot haul up your brown-bagged bottle of rotgut. Sorry—to do so would offend the moral fiber of this great state.
You gotta wonder what kind of incident made a dashing state legislator jump up and shout, with appropriate General Assembly fist-pounding: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have got to crack down on liquor at bingo games! Think of the children!”
The fun doesn’t stop there, either. Political organizations can’t serve beer or wine without a special event permit, but can get a mixed-drinks permit and dish out cocktails (they help considerably on election night, I imagine). For politics, apparently, only the hard stuff will do.
Famously, alcohol sales aren’t allowed before noon (after church time) on Sunday.
If you’ve ever wondered why many clubs have memberships and “guests,” it’s because the law requires it. There’s no “nightclub” provision allowed for ABC permits, so a club either has to qualify as a restaurant (getting 70 percent or more of its sales from food) or a “private club” with memberships and all. (However, “sporting clubs” are allowed to get permits, so if some enterprising entrepreneur were to put a mini-golf course on top of their bar, they might have a gold mine on their hands.)
Of course, the laws also allow counties or cities to prohibit the sale of alcohol entirely, and that can become a contentious cultural issue. It took Boone until 1988 to allow beer and wine sales—and that was only after a bitter election that pitted Appalachian State University students against many of the town’s residents. Madison County didn’t allow beer or wine sales until last year.
It’s often forgotten that tee-totaling used to be the cause célèbre of religious conservatives, of whom the South—and the mountains—have plenty. Of course, this is also the land of bourbon and (more close to home) bootlegging and moonshine. North Carolina touts itself as business-friendly, and alcohol makes money. Those two arguments—money (and pleasure) versus the old fear of demon rum are at the heart of the debate.
When Woodfin was considering putting the matter up for a vote in 2005, many citizens said it would harm the moral fiber of the town, while business owners answered that it would bring in sorely needed cash. The measure passed, and Woodfin’s brand-new liquor store, ironically enough, is one of the most spacious and well-stocked around.
Those two arguments are at the heart of North Carolina’s laws: allow drinks—especially where they can make money; but not so fast—no drinking Sunday morning. What’s more, all the liquor-sale money goes to education. Lately, the “wets,” to use a very old term, seem to be winning. In recent years, North Carolina’s allowed higher-alcohol beer, ABC stores offer a much larger stock, and only four dry counties are left in the state. But there’s still no booze at the bingo game.