Spat over bars' drinks-discount deal

A spat between the authorities and lower Octagon bar owners has started over a promotion offering patrons a discounted taxi home if they buy six drinks in four hours.

The authorities say the promotion, which covers the period between 7pm and 11pm on Thursdays, breaches the Sale of Liquor Act by encouraging patrons to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

But the bar owners believe it complies with the Act and are seeking a legal opinion.

Following discussions with organisers from the Lower Octagon Licensed Forum, police, the medical officer of health and the Dunedin City Council district licensing authority met on Wednesday, but decided it was too late to stop the promotion, called "Octagon Alive", going ahead last night.

District licensing inspector Tony Mole said the forum was notified that if the promotion was held again next week, as advertised, the district licensing authority would be forced to take action against the bar owners.

The authorities were unaware of the promotion until he saw the advertisement in the Otago Daily Times last week, Mr Mole said.

The same day, he emailed a letter expressing his concerns to lower Octagon bar owner and forum member Phil Ellis.

His concerns related to patrons being rewarded for buying six drinks in one evening, when the Alcohol Advisory Council suggested women should drink no more than four standard drinks on one occasion, and men no more than six, Mr Mole said in the letter.

"The promotion is encouraging patrons to engage in unsafe drinking practices."

He received a response from another forum member and bar owner, Grant Ellis, on Tuesday, saying the forum did not believe it was breaching any laws and the promotion was designed to attract more people to the area.

The letter said the forum believed it was a responsible group and its members were offended by the implication they were acting in an illegal, anti-social and non-professional manner, Mr Mole said.

He had received several complaints about the advertised promotion from members of the public and was aware the police had been approached by a Law Commission representative, who expressed similar concerns.

The Dunedin police liquor licensing officer could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

Forum spokesman John MacDonald said the group met yesterday and opted to seek legal advice before making any decision about the promotion.

Bar owners had been conscious of their host responsibility when designing the promotion, which was why drinks could be non-alcoholic, it was limited to a few hours only, the drinks had to be from six different bars and it promoted getting home safely.

They intended to obtain legal advice before next Thursday.

Mr Mole said if the forum had asked him about the promotion before going ahead with it, "this whole situation could have been avoided".

"I'm here to give advice."

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