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Editorial: No booze at the movies

Editorial: No booze at the movies

Current bill doesn't fully address concerns about security, noise, underage drinking
Editorial: No booze at the movies
Photographer: Shutterstock

It’s so tempting to just go for it.

All the arguments are there to allow movie theaters to sell alcohol.

For instance, theater owners say they need it because of increased competition from premium movie networks and other entertainment. (More on that later.)

Movie theaters’ costs are rising, as moviegoers demand greater amenities like 3D screens, high-def picture and sound, and big comfy lounge chairs, which reduce the number of seats that can be sold.

 Assembly sponsors of the bill even cited the higher costs associated with the state’s higher minimum wage as a reason to allow alcohol sales. (Wait, didn’t they say a higher minimum wage wouldn’t hurt businesses?)

But the proposal raises concerns, especially regarding security, that must be addressed.

It’s difficult to control abuses in a dark movie theater where underage individuals are present. What’s to keep one adult from buying a giant beer and passing it around to minors in the dark? Bars and arenas are more likely than movie theaters to have adequate security staff on hand. And with bars, it’s more difficult for minors to get access to alcohol, since they’re not allowed on the premises.

Look at the trouble even places like SPAC — which is crawling with security and strictly regulates alcohol sales — have in keeping alcohol from minors. Last year, police cited 87 minors for underage drinking and confiscated 123 fake IDs.

Another concern: At a concert or ball game or a bar, no one expects others to be particularly quiet. Moviegoers, however, paying $10-$20 a ticket for 90 minutes of entertainment, might not be so enamored sitting within hearing distance of inconsiderate, chatty imbibers. 

The new bill (S5784/A7188) does impose some limits, but they don’t go very far.

For example, it only allows the sale of one alcoholic beverage per ticket holder at a time. It also attempts to keep alcohol away from minors by banning its sale at G-rated movies. But alcohol would be sold during PG-13 movies, where the youngest patrons allowed are still eight years removed from the legal drinking age. How is that any better?

Back to the justification. We don’t totally buy the argument that movie theaters are so hard-up financially that they can’t survive without selling alcohol. Last year, the movie industry took in a record $11.4 billion in the U.S. and Canada, a 2 percent increase from 2015. Attendance was 1.32 billion. Add to that the fact that New York offers the film industry a $420-million-a-year tax break.

“Despite the explosions of entertainment choices that grow almost by the hour it seems, the global film industry is vibrant, strong and growing,” Chris Dodd, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, said in March. Does that sound like an industry that needs a new revenue stream to survive?

Movie studios get about 70 percent of the revenue theaters take in. How about taking a smaller cut to help theaters thrive? It in the industry’s best interest in the long run.

We’re also uncomfortable with the idea of using one industry to prop up another. That justification was used to get slot machines in harness-racing tracks. It’s a slippery slope.

Alcohol might eventually have a place in movie theaters. But given the potential problems, lawmakers should hold off on allowing alcohol sales until they come up with a bill that adequately addresses these issues.

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