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Tapped Out

One year in, law has caused drastic drop in sales of kegs in East Lansing

November 12, 2012
	<p>Since the keg law has been put in place, sales on kegs of beer have declined 70 percent. However, sales on cases of beer, as well as liquor, have increased. Photo Illustration Adam Toolin/The State News</p>

Since the keg law has been put in place, sales on kegs of beer have declined 70 percent. However, sales on cases of beer, as well as liquor, have increased. Photo Illustration Adam Toolin/The State News

For years, the keg arguably was the center of party culture — holier than the “Must be 21 to drink” signs scotch-taped to grungy rental house walls and the red Solo cup itself.

Over the course of Spartan history, students had grown used to pushing through massive party crowds to wait in line to pump the keg — a ritual that slowly is disappearing since “the keg law” took effect last November.

Since the law, which increases accountability for keg buyers and fines sellers for not following the law’s guidelines, went into effect, keg sales have crashed in local liquor stores, and sales of other types of alcohol — such as canned beer and hard liquor — have increased as replacements.

“Keg sales are down dramatically, a tremendous amount,” Tom’s Party Store owner Rich McCarius said, where keg sales have dropped about 70 percent.

Now just more than a year old, the law has sparked a change in East Lansing’s party landscape, and the decline of the traditional college kegger.

The tag
By asking keg buyers to identify themselves by name, address, phone number and driver’s license number on the keg itself, state Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, who supported the bill in the Michigan Legislature, said the goal of the law was to curb the harmful effects of binge drinking and limit the number of large-scale parties in the city.

In addition to identification on the keg, buyers do not receive their deposit back if the tag is missing upon return to the store.

The state also can fine business owners if they don’t distribute the tags properly to buyers.

“If there’s a ticket that’s going to be written about a particular party, it’s a ticket written about the owner of the keg, as opposed to someone standing near the keg,” Meadows said. “Essentially, it was a protection for the community and a protection for students as well.”

MSU student Tom Woods, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, said he throws far fewer keg parties than last year — a trend he has noticed throughout the city since the law started being enforced.

“It definitely dissuades some people from buying kegs because the penalties are so much higher now and the fact they can track you down,” Woods said. “(Fewer) people want to go out and buy kegs … with the responsibilities and the penalties that come with it.”

Capt. Jeff Murphy of the East Lansing Police Department said the police don’t have an official record of keg-related crimes and that kegs aren’t their first priority when they receive a party complaint.

“The only reason we would ever (search for a keg) is if we wanted to charge somebody contributing to minors,” Murphy said. “If we go to a party filled with high school students, then we want to find out who’s supplying the keg for that, but that’s different than (a) college party.”

Woods said he hasn’t noticed a decrease in partying itself, just the approach students are taking to distribute alcohol.

Shaken, not stirred
By removing kegs from the equation for parties, students and health professionals agree the law only forces underage drinkers to take a different approach to drinking at parties, instead of decreasing underage drinking as legislators hoped.

“I think what it did is change the dynamic of keg sales to 30-pack can (beer) sales,” McCarius said. “Instead of buying a keg for a large quantity of beer, they buy five or 10 30-packs instead. … (Business) hasn’t slowed down in that sense.”

Since the presences of kegs has decreased, MSU Coordinator of Health Education Dennis Martell said more and more students are turning to liquor as an alternative, which can have dangerous consequences.

“We have fairly good evidence that draft beer sales and keg sales are down, and students are now buying half-gallons (of liquor), which presents a problem to us as educators,” Martell said. “A lot of students don’t have experience in drinking liquor instead of beer … They’re drinking higher concentrations of alcohol without even knowing … You can’t take it like you drink beer — they totally underestimate the amount they’re pouring.”

The decline of keg parties also has led to an increase in parties with a “bring your own booze” requirement, which Woods said can have its own host of consequences as well.

“I think it lends itself more toward the dangerous side effects of bringing your own drinks to parties,” Woods said. “If you have a keg and are providing alcohol, you can regulate how much (guests) get. … You can refuse them service. If they bring their own fifth or their own mixed drink, they can bring as much as they want — from what I’ve seen, this leads to people getting too drunk.”

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