Bounty hunters target drink-seeking minors

A picture is worth a thousand words. A picture of minors trying to enter a bar is also worth a thousand words. Just substitute “words” with “dollars” to avoid a messy court hearing.

“Every weekend minors try to enter my bar,” said operations manager of the Woodshed Lounge Tisha Smith.

Under Alaska statutes, bars are entitled to a $1,000 civil fine from minors attempting to enter their premises, and bouncers seem to have become bounty hunters of underage drinkers.

The $1,000 can be awarded to the person who captured the ID, Smith said.

“We arrest all minors coming into the bar. If we catch them, then we pursue the civil fine,” said Smith.

Each bar reserves the right to pursue the civil fine, and whether they decide to depends on the bar’s policy.

“We’re not trying to be a hard case. We’re protecting our employees, protecting our interests,” Smith said, adding that every time a minor tries to enter the premises, it endangers staff and the bar’s liquor license.

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While the stakes are high for minors who drink underage, they can be even higher for bars and employees – a server caught serving alcohol to a minor can be fined up to $50,000 and face possible jail time, liquor license revocation and bar closure, according to the statute.

In some cases, underage drinkers are arrested, cited and released. Then the minor has 15 days to mail the $1,000 check to a post office box in Anchorage, or a bar can pursue the case in court, according to an actual letter issued to a minor by the Woodshed. If the minor takes the case to court and loses, they may be subject to paying court fees too.

However, it is not an easy process to get that civil fine, Smith said. In the last few weeks, she has sent 16 notices to minors alerting them that if they fail to pay the civil fine on time, they will be taken to court.

“It’s in the minor’s best interest to just pay the fee,” Smith said. “They really need to be thinking about what they’re doing. They think they’re just going out and have a good time. They’re putting my entire staff in jeopardy. This is how I pay for my life. They need to recognize that.”

Anchorage Police Department spokesman Paul Honeman said the state has found other ways to deter minors from consuming alcohol.

“It’s become a lot more difficult (to pass a fake ID) with the new ID cards with the digital information,” he said.

He said he’s seen minors try several schemes to drink underage, including trying to pass a falsified version of their own identification card, temporarily borrow an identification card of someone else they resemble or enter a bar and hope they won’t be carded.

Frank Woitel, a 19-year-old biological sciences major at UAA, said students getting blatantly wasted underage and making poor choices ruin drinking for everyone else.

“If you’re 18, you can get drafted and take a bullet. But you’re still not old enough to legally drink. It’s not a matter of age. It’s a matter of personal responsibility and being able to handle yourself,” he said. “Unfortunately, those who have no self-control give the rest of us a bad image.”

Honeman said the individual, not the alcohol, commits the crime.