Las Vegas’ booze ban is cleaning up Fremont Street, but not everyone is pleased

Bob Leroux pours his bottled beer into a plastic cup before leaving Binion’s at the Fremont Street Experience Thursday, July 17, 2014.

Fremont St. Liquor

A neon sign advertises liquor for sale at the Fremont Street Experience Thursday, July 17, 2014. Launch slideshow »

A lump of a man in a soccer jersey with a blue medallion hanging from his neck scans a wall cooler filled with beer in a gift shop lining the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas.

Above the cooler, a neon yellow sign blares a message: “Alcohol purchased at this location CANNOT be consumed on the Fremont Street Experience.”

The city of Las Vegas has approved a set of new laws in the past two months to crack down on public drinking in the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block stretch of historic casinos near Las Vegas Boulevard and just north of the Strip.

City leaders are specifically targeting less expensive beer and liquor sold in street-front gift shops, rather than pricier alcohol sold in casinos. They see those shops as the direct link between tourists and excessive drinking in public.

By cracking down on the gift shops, city leaders think they will discourage the unruly behavior, thefts, stabbings and shootings that have drawn negative headlines and scared tourists.

Under the new city laws, it’s illegal to drink alcohol directly from a can or bottle outdoors in the Fremont Street Experience. The rules also forbid the sale of mini bottles of hard liquor, alcohol advertising in windows, the sale of beer or malt liquor in containers bigger than 32 ounces, and the sale of beer or wine coolers with more than 11 percent alcohol.

But how those new laws work on the street have been mixed.

In the gift shop, the man in the soccer jersey reaches into the cooler — just below the sign advertising the booze ban on the street — and pulls out a 24-ounce bottle of beer.

When asked what he plans do with the beer, the man, who wouldn’t give his name, smiles and nods to his cup.

“Pour it in here,” he whispers.

But where to do the pour?

A “bag law” the City Council approved Wednesday says people can’t open a bag with beer or liquor inside while at the Fremont Street Experience. Police can seize booze if someone breaks the law.

“What?” the man says. “What the hell are they trying to do down here?”

Gift shop owners say the new laws are bad for business, a battle that's been brewing for some time. Two of them have sued the city in federal court to overturn the laws.

Sales are “way down,” said two clerks at one gift shop. The owner declined to comment, citing the lawsuits.

If liquor sales are down on Fremont Street, which is topped by a canopy, that’s exactly what city leaders want, Councilman Bob Beers said.

“In my mind, the goal is to eliminate the package liquor stores under the canopy, and the ordinances we have passed are all aimed at that task,” Beers said at the City Council meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Police say the new laws are already working to improve safety, even though officers mostly issue warnings instead of misdemeanor citations.

“Everybody I’ve talked to, be it the guy that works security in the casinos or my officers, everybody says it feels safer,” said Capt. Shawn Anderson, who runs downtown policing for Metro Police.

More laws are on the way to curb the sidewalk chaos.

The city is working on laws to regulate street performers and panhandlers, Beers said.

Those new laws might affect the type of performers who pranced down Fremont Street on Wednesday night, such as the six men posing for pictures wearing colored jockstraps.

Tags: Politics, News