Bill proposes drinks at bars dispensed from automated machines

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 10.12.14 AMScreen Shot 2015-03-14 at 10.11.57 AMSan Antonio Express-News & Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN – Patrons of bars and businesses with proper alcohol licenses would be able to grab a cocktail or beer from an automatic dispensing machine – much like a soft drink – if the legislature passes a measure offered by a Laredo lawmaker.

Texas is actually one of the few states that do not allow these self-serving machines used in bars and casinos in New York, Ohio, Florida and Louisiana, according to James Nicol, CEO of Easybar, the company that has sold more than 400 liquor service stations.

States such as California and Nevada, which have strong service unions, have been opposed to the self-serve machines.

“It sounds like Texas has been the same way,” Nicol said. “Legislation could open that up, and there’s definitely going to be an opportunity there.”

Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, filed House Bill 2118, which would give businesses that are authorized to sell alcoholic beverages the option to use an automated machine to dispense their drinks.

According to the bill, only those who are 21 years of age or older with a credit card that matches the name on their drivers license may use the machines. But some people question how the machines would be monitored.

Easybar is an Oregon-based company that has provided bevarage-control equipment since 1968, and has been manufacturing and supplying self-serving cocktail machines for two years. Its liquor service stations allow bars to choose up to 48 different flavors of alcohol, mixers or juice, but card readers that would read a customer’s drivers license must be added on separately by the business using the machine.

“What automatic dispensing machines entail – whether that’s self service or used by an employee – is it’s going to allow a bartender to not have to make the drink,” Nicol said.

The machines can be set up to allow only a certain amount of drinks to be served, Nicol said. The bartender can then go to the table to determine how customers are using the machine.

Richard Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, said his organization has yet to take a position on the bill.

“I think, as drafted, it needs some safeguards,” Donley said. “There are some safety and public health concerns that probably need to be tightened up.

Donley said in addition to the problems it would create to make sure those under age 21 were not using the machine, he was also concerned that there would be no way to monitor if a customer needed to be cut off.

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