Like it or not, in its latest session the Arkansas General Assembly passed a new law making it much easier to authorize the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption in Benton County. Contrary to some public belief, on-premises consumption is still only allowed at "private clubs" in Benton County even after last November's election. The election last fall only authorized the establishment of liquor stores to sell alcohol for consumption off-premises.
Currently, establishments serving alcohol in Benton County typically must be organized as a "private club." Private clubs have a stricter set of rules than do actual bars. For example, private clubs must buy their alcohol at retail prices rather than wholesale prices. This means the customer ends up paying a higher end price since the alcohol has effectively been sold at retail prices twice. Furthermore, private clubs cannot have alcohol delivered to their locations. Private club owners must drive to the store or distributor to pick up all alcohol.
Until now a referendum election was necessary in order to authorize actual bars, rather than private clubs, in Benton County. However, that changes for Benton County under Act 1008 of 2013 which allows cities and towns to authorize on-premises consumption by ordinance.
Act 1008, which became effective August 15th, now allows a city or town to authorize on-premises consumption by ordinance, rather than referendum election. This is a much easier process for authorizing bars than the previous law. It appears as if Act 1008 was tailored specifically for Benton County. Act 1008 states as requirements that the county in which on-premises consumption is to be authorized must have authorized the sale of intoxicating liquor after November 1, 2012, and must have at least one hundred Alcoholic Beverage Control Division permits at the time the city or town chooses to authorize on-premises consumption. Benton County is the only county statewide we know of that fits these requirements.
The laws governing the sale of alcoholic beverages in Benton County have undergone a lot of changes recently. Act 1008 is the latest development on this front and may be the subject of much debate in the near future.