Common PA Liquor Law Violations (You Didn’t Know You Were Committing)


Image for corks of wine in a bowl, ready for a wine cork raffleTypically our firm interfaces with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) when it comes to licensing restaurants, hotels, and other business premises. Obtaining or transferring a license within the restaurant and hospitality industry and adhering to PA liquor laws is common practice for business owners and entrepreneurs. Yet, individuals and other organizations may also have run-ins with state alcohol laws when it comes to buying, serving, or transporting beverages, whether knowingly or unknowingly, that could result in fines and other undesirable penalties. Let’s explore common PA liquor law violations and how to avoid them.

Common PA Liquor Law Violations – Special Events

Wine pulls and raffle baskets containing alcoholic beverages have become popular attractions at fundraisers. Event guests can pay a flat fee to pull a surprise bottle of wine or other spirit, or bid on a package containing alcohol, with monies raised going to the nonprofit. Other events like carnivals and festivals, which temporarily occupy a space, often seek revenue from the sale of alcohol as well.

While it’s obvious that bars and dining establishments, which permanently occupy a space, need a specific license, it’s lesser known that events, whether serving alcohol or even just auctioning it off, also require a permit for on-premise alcohol.

To obtain a special occasion permit:

  • Make sure you’re an eligible entity
  • Apply at least 30 days prior to your event (first-time applicants) or 10 days if your organization has received a permit previously
  • Submit the application here (once you create/activate/access your account) with information about your organization, event details, and municipal approval (if applicable)
  • Pay event fee ($30/day)
  • Receive permit via email; bring with you to your event

If you are having an external vendor be on-site for your event to serve alcohol, like a beer truck at a festival, ensure they have an appropriate permit as well. Many well-intentioned organizations and event planners forego or forget their special occasion permit. Unfortunately, this is in violation of PA liquor laws and could result in a fine of up to $250 for a first-time offense, $500 for a second-time offense, and halting the sale of alcohol at your event, cutting into profits or funds raised, as well as impacting the event experience. Additionally, it may jeopardize the liquor licensing at your event venue and ruin your organization’s relationship with the location for future events.

Beyond a permit, if you are serving alcohol at your event, you may also want to consider obtaining liquor liability insurance to cover your organization for the actions of individuals who become intoxicated at your event. Known as “dram shop laws,” you are liable for damages caused by overserved attendees.

Common PA Liquor Law Violations – Crossing State Lines

The Northampton Street Bridge over the Delaware River in Easton, Pennsylvania.Despite PA House efforts in 2016, it is still illegal to purchase alcohol in another state and transfer it across state lines. While PA State Police does not have task forces dedicated to this PA liquor law violation, if you are caught, you may be fined $10 per bottle or can of beer, and $25 per bottle of liquor, as well as have your alcohol confiscated.

This may seem frustrating to those who have a favorite spirit not available for sale in PA. What’s the way around it? Individuals may place a “Special Liquor Order” through a state-run liquor store and pay tax on items to the state through this transaction. Additionally, these orders may be placed by licensed importers or vendors on behalf of customers.

When it comes to shipping across state lines, some licensed wineries and alcohol manufacturers may obtain special licenses permitting them to ship to PA residents. Don’t be surprised if you try to order a certain spirit from its website only to find PA as a state unable to receive shipments.

Avoid Common PA Liquor Law Violations

While it’s unlikely an undercover Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BLCE) officer is waiting outside your nonprofit’s big fundraising event to bust you for not having a permit, why risk it? Just like for-profit businesses and events, nonprofits must be compliant with PA liquor laws – there are no special protections. Make sure your event or venue is appropriately licensed for the sale or consumption of alcohol.

Even though Delaware, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey may have bigger, better, and sometimes cheaper selections of your favorite spirits, you’re taking a risk by purchasing alcohol in those states and transporting it home to PA without paying taxes. Strongly consider the “SOL” protocols noted above to avoid fines and penalties.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of America’s largest alcohol buyers, as the sale of all alcohol is run through the state. PA liquor law is burdensome and outdated, not addressing many situations in which businesses find themselves today. Until there is a reasonable overhaul in our state laws or a major change in how alcohol is sold, please be sure to avoid PA liquor law violations and reach out to a member of our Restaurants and Hospitality team for support with your PA liquor licensing, permitting, and liquor law questions.

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