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State might allow alcohol sales at SIU campuses; sports events targeted

SIUE students react to possible alcohol sales at SIU events

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A bill pending in the Illinois legislature would allow Southern Illinois University to sell alcohol at sports games and other events on the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses.

SIU primarily wants to be able to sell alcohol at sports events, and in the future possibly at concerts and other types of events.

Universities, sometimes facing decreases in public funding, are increasingly turning to beer sales at sports events. John Charles, SIU’s director of governmental and public affairs, said Illinois’ budget stalemate is in fact what prompted the idea at SIU.

“As this budget situation started to develop, we were encouraged to be creative in finding alternative revenue sources,” Charles said. “This is our attempt to do that.”

As this budget situation started to develop, we were encouraged to be creative in finding alternative revenue sources. This is our attempt to do that.

John Charles, SIU director of governmental and public affairs

SIU leaders want an exemption in existing state law, which prohibits sales of alcohol on state property, including public universities. Four public universities in Illinois — University of Illinois, Chicago State University, Illinois State University and Northern Illinois University — already have an exemption.

SIU, in seeking support for Senate Bill 2824, points to a report that says Northern Illinois University officials’ decision to sell beer at Huskie Stadium during football games is paying off — in terms of revenue and public safety.

Northern Illinois University Police Commander Don Rodman told the Chicago Tribune that alcohol-related calls during games have dropped since beer sales began in the second week of the 2015 football season. Rodman and senior associate athletic director John Cheney believe the drop is due to fans not binge-drinking before going into the stadium.

Charles said SIU “hopes the university-controlled sale of alcohol will lead to a decrease in game-day alcohol-related incidents.”

The legislation, if signed into law, would require the SIU Board of Trustees to formulate a written policy on alcohol sales. In setting its policy, the board would be required to consider a number of factors, including whether certain types of events are a “student activity” or a “student-related activity” as well as the proportion of attendees who are likely to be younger than 21.

The Senate passed the bill 52-0 in April, with Republican Dave Luechtefeld of Okawville and Democrat Bill Haine of Alton voting in favor. Democrat James Clayborne of Belleville and Republican Kyle McCarter of Lebanon did not vote.

The House’s Executive Committee voted 8-1 on May 19 to send the bill to the House floor, where it awaits a vote. The Executive Committee has two metro-east members: Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis, who voted in favor, and Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, who voted in opposition. The bill’s sponsor in the House is Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

Students sampled at SIUE had mixed feelings on the proposal.

Doctorate student Chuan Gno said college is a place “for study, for research — it’s not a place for alcohol.”

Senior Lucas Randant said, “It might help SIUE get more sales and revenue, which would always be a good thing — to keep SIUE going for everybody else.”

It might help SIUE get more sales and revenue, which would always be a good thing — to keep SIUE going for everybody else.

SIUE senior Lucas Randant

Sophomore Jessica Rodriguez said alcohol at sports events “probably wouldn’t” be a good idea. “I know it can get out of hand fast,” she said.

In recent months a number of other states have begun allowing alcohol sales at university sports events, including Ohio State, University of Florida, Florida State and Penn State. At the University of Texas, beer sales to Longhorns fans totaled $1.8 million in the first year of alcohol sales at UT football games, according to a January report in the Houston Chronicle.

University of Illinois allows beer sales only in premium seats and club areas of Memorial Stadium and State Farm Center.

Reports from the New York Times and ESPN say universities, eager to draw fans and increase revenues in an era with seven-figure coaching salaries, are increasingly turning to beer sales at games.

Last year the legislature granted Lewis & Clark Community College in Godfrey an exemption to sell alcohol. The college sells alcohol at a variety of events on campus, such as wedding receptions, fundraisers, cultural events and banquets. The college says alcohol sales have totaled $20,236.33 since they began in February.

A separate piece of legislation — House Bill 4820 — would extend the exemption to all community colleges in the state. That bill has passed in the House by a 67-38 vote and the Senate by a 54-0 vote. It will now be sent to the governor.

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