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Not quite the DMV in Pennsylvania

September 3, 2011

This is a bit of follow-up to my Not quite the DMV post, which was about visiting a state-run liquor store in Iowa in the 70s.

Jacob Sullum asked an amusing question this week at Reason’s blog about Pennsylvania’s fumbling attempts to update how wine is sold there.

How Does a Wine Monopoly Lose Money?

In a report issued today, Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner says the state liquor control board’s wine vending machines, a wonderful illustration of what happens when a government monopoly tries to act more like a business, are operating at a loss, costing taxpayers more than $1 million since they were introduced a year ago. “We think the wine kiosk program has failed,” Wagner said at a press conference, “and it needs dramatic, radical changes if the program is going to continue to exist.” […]

When they are working, the kiosks dispense a limited selection of wines at limited locations and times (not on Sunday, of course!) to customers who present ID, look into a camera monitored by a state employee, breathe into a blood-alcohol meter, and swipe a credit card. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) originally expected to have 100 kiosks in grocery stores throughout the state, each selling 30 to 50 bottles a day. But only 32 machines were ever up and running at one time, and only 15 manged to hit the bottom end of that sales target.

The Reason article does not say that all wine sold in Pennsylvania is sold through these kiosk machines. The kiosks are placed in stores that aren’t operated by the state. Hence all the nonsense about ID, camera monitoring and breathalyzer testing. Can you believe all that? The state-employee-monitored camera is a nice touch, isn’t it? Straight out of 1984.

Gee, I wonder why they’re not selling much wine? Want to bet on how many repeat customers the kiosk machines get? I wouldn’t use them twice.

There are state-run stores, though, where wine is sold. Here’s an amusing rant by Rob Dreher about them: Why I hate buying wine in PA.

So I doubt that Pennsylvania is losing money selling wine when sales from its state-run stores are considered.

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