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Photo of Matt M. McClenahen
Photo of Matt M. McClenahen

Why do Penn State Bars have a Bounty on Fake IDs?

On Behalf of | Apr 13, 2013 | Uncategorized

Fake IDs are quite common throughout the United States, as a natural outgrowth of having a nationwide drinking age of 21. Fake IDs work in some places, while in other places, the bouncers and bartenders take every precaution to make sure an ID is legitimate before allowing someone to drink. Unfortunately for Penn State students, State College is one of those places where the bars not only refuse entry to a person with a fake ID, but the bouncers will actually detain the would-be underage bar crasher until the police show up. When the police arrive, they will either charge you with a first degree misdemeanor for “violations concenring licenses” or a summary offense, depending upon the facts of the case. At some bars, the owner actually pays the bouncers a bounty for each fake ID they confiscate.

As an attorney to represents Penn State students, I am often asked why the bars pay a bounty for fake IDs and why they call the police on someone who was about to spend money in the bar. Why wouldn’t the bouncer, at the very least, just let the underage kid leave in peace? After all, the bar will want this person’s business when he turns 21. 

The simple answer is that the bars fear the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, which most people refer to as the BLCE and the Liqor Control Board, or LCB. Drinking establishments are considered to be a highly regulated industry, and as such, officers from the BLCE can go into a bar at any time to make sure it is in compliance with all liquor laws. There is no need for an administrative agency to get a search warrant when dealing with a highly regulated industry. If a bar accumulates enough violations for things like serving alcohol to minors, the LCB may revoke the bar’s liquor license.

When State College bars detain a fake ID holder and call the police, it shows the BLCE that the bars are actively self-policing. If the bars are policing themselves, then the BLCE does not have to aggressively police them. The BLCE could shut down a bar on a busy Saturday night, turn off all the taps, turn on the lights, and check the ID of everyone in the bar before they are allowed to leave. I was once in a bar in Mifflin County when the BLCE did just this. Needless to say, it really killed the atmosphere, and the BLCE did not find any underage kids anyway. Just imagine how much money places like the
G-Man, the Phyrst, the Skeller, Zeno’s or The Saloon would lose if the BLCE shut them down for an hour on a weekend night. As long as the bars police themselves, the BLCE is not going to harass them.

So why don’t the bars in places like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or Harrisburg fear the LCB and BLCE as much as State College bars? The main reason is that most of the bar patrons in State College are barely of legal drinking age. In other parts of the state, bar patrons range the gamut from late teens to 90. Also, in big cities, the BLCE is more concerned with so-called nuisance bars, where drugs are sold, pimps and prostitutes look for business, and violence often erupts. State College has no bars in this category, but it would have tons of underage drinking if the bars were lax on checking IDs.

Having a liquor license in State College is essentially a license to print money. State College bars cannot take any risk to jeopardize a liquor license, which is far more valuable in Happy Valley than in most other parts of the state. The bars do not need underage kids to augment their income, as they are already filled to capacity during the semester.

Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, PA, with extensive experience representing those charged with minor’s law offenses.

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