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Attorney General Suggests Wedding Barns May Be Required To Hold Alcohol Licenses

On November 16, 2018, Attorney General Brad Schimel issued an informal letter analyzing whether event venues rented for private events must seek an alcohol license to allow the consumption of alcohol beverages at the venue. Specifically, the AG was asked to interpret whether the term “public place” under Wis. Stat. § 125.09(1) includes an “event venue” that may be rented for a “private event (e.g., a wedding, birthday party, or retirement party),” ostensibly a reference to places commonly known as wedding barns. With limited exceptions, consumption of alcohol beverages at an unlicensed “public place” is prohibited. In an informal and nonbinding analysis of the statute, the AG concluded that these event venues likely qualify as “public places” under Wis. Stat. § 125.09(1). 

If the AG’s conclusion is adopted by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue or local enforcement authorities, then the consumption of alcohol beverages at unlicensed wedding barns and similar venues, including when the alcohol is purchased elsewhere and brought in by the renter, would expose the owners and possibly renters to enforcement actions and penalties. To avoid penalties under the AG’s position, the owner or renter of an event venue would have to obtain an alcohol license to continue to allow consumption of alcohol at events. However, not every municipality may have a license to issue, as state law limits the number and type of alcohol licenses authorized to be issued by municipalities.

As of the date of this post, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue has not commented on or explicitly adopted AG Schimel’s interpretation of “public place.” The recent Fact Sheets published by the Department detail that consumption of alcohol beverages in an unlicensed public place is prohibited, but they do not describe what venues qualify as a “public place.” However, consumption of carry-in alcohol on a licensed premise is prohibited and an owner of a licensed premise must legally purchase any alcohol consumed on premises from an authorized source.

As AG Schimel recognizes in his letter, the incoming Attorney General, Josh Kaul, is free to disagree with AG Schimel’s position. The present impact, however, is that AG Schimel’s position introduces further uncertainty into whether wedding barns require licenses to allow the consumption of alcohol at events. Owners or prospective owners of unlicensed event venues where alcohol will be consumed should consult with their legal counsel to review options.  

DISCLAIMER: The information provided is for general informational purposes only. This post is not updated to account for changes in the law and should not be considered tax or legal advice. This article is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with legal and/or financial advisors for legal and tax advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

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