Debate Magazine

Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board

Posted on the 06 September 2011 by Mikeb302000

I know this is a bit bizarre for me still to be interested in this, but I am fascinated by the possibility that Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is the closest it has ever been to becoming privatised. That said:

One of the victims of the latest round of US elections may be Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board (PLCB), which is something I have mixed feelings about. The PLCB is the largest purchaser of alcoholic beverages in the United States, which means it wields quite a bit of clout when it comes down to buying power. On the other hand, it does tend to favour various large producers of wine and spirits (Beer is another story) to the detriment of the smaller producers. This purchasing power can result in wizard buys at the PLCB (US$60 bottles of wine going for US$28), but these specials can also be deceiving since the PLCB may be the only place carrying the product and giving the list price as a comparison to their price. Although, I did pick up a bottle of Earthquake Petit Sirah for US$18 which goes for around US$30 at PLCB a while back.

There have been efforts to privatise the PLCB for around 30 years now which have come to naught for the reason I expect the current efforts to fail: the PLCB is too much of a money spinner for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Privatising the PLCB is killing the goose that laid the golden egg and a short term solution that will cost the Commonwealth in the long run. The current state of the amarket in Pennsylvania is such that the Commonwealth makes a profit on the wine and collects the taxes. A privatised PLCB will lead to only the tax revenue. That would end up costing the Commonwealth in the end in lost liquor sales.

The real drawback to the Commonwealth’s monoply is for the consumer who is stuck with the limited selection presented by the PLCB. Unless one lives near another state and can visit someplace such as Stockton, NJ’s Philips’ Fine Wines or NYC’s Park Avenue Liquor, one is stuck with the PLCB selection. Also, there are some PLCBs which have large selections of wine, but not all of them have good selections–or even the type of selection that Philips’ has. In fact, even the PLCB’s premium collection stores cannot compete with the selection of a Philips’. Although, I have just found the PLCB user’s group, which is one of the solutions which may work to modernise the Liquor sales regime in Pennsylvania. Actually, the PLCB User’s group is something which is a current “work around” where one can place a special order within the current system, but that doesn’t help for a bottle of wine or whisky which isn’t carried by PLCB (e.g., Tobermory Single malt).

It seems to me that the PLCB could offer its managers more autonomy within the system to independently purchase wine and spirits, but the bureaucracy of the PLCB precludes such a solution. In fact, I find the PLCB to be sort of a McDonald’s for alcoholic beverages in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The problem is that the PLCB is limited by its vendors which can be seen at the PLCB user’s group’s site. Here’s an Op-Ed from the Scranton Times-Tribune about the PLCB’s hold on the alcoholic beverage market:

Archaic product-distribution rules, tiny discounts and the general lack of competition create burdens for restaurants and other businesses that their counterparts in more progressive, free-market states don’t face.

The basic upshot of this is that the consumer is limited to what is sold through the official PLCB system in Pennsylvania The National & PLCB Wine Finder and PLCB user’s group’s site. Any special order from a non-SLO Vendor still has to go through the PLCB system even though this was declared unconstitutional (try purchasing wine and spirits via mail-order if you live in PA). The ultimate upshot is that the PLCB has a well deserved reputation for being archaic, bureaucratic, and down right idiotic. Even if the PLCB doesn’t go private, it needs to become far more consumer friendly. That means that Pennsylvania has to deal with the fact that the PLCB is the one aspect of government which makes money, yet the liquor laws seriously need to be revised to make the Commonwealth consumer friendly.

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