Bryan County officials hope liquor law brings tax dollars

Sunday, November 7th 2004, 5:19 pm
By: News On 6

DURANT, Okla. (AP) _ In two weeks, businesses in Bryan County will be able to sell liquor by the drink, and area officials are hoping it will mean more tax dollars.

The move comes after county voters on Tuesday approved a proposition to allow state-licensed businesses to sell liquor by the drink.

Now, national restaurant chains will be more likely to build in Bryan County, Economic Development Director Tommy Kramer said.

More restaurants could mean more jobs for college students, said Ryan Owens, student body president at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant.

On campus, students are excited about the possibility of more restaurants in town, Owens said. Like other Durant residents, some students drive 20 miles to Denison, Texas, for dinner.

Alcohol already is served in county liquor stores, so residents have access to alcohol. And Owens said he doesn't expect alcohol use to increase when mixed drinks are sold.

But some Bryan County residents think the drink issue is about something besides economics or convenience.

Mark Wesley, pastor at the Bible Baptist Church, said alcohol use is about morals, not money. Durant is prospering, and selling drinks at restaurants is unnecessary, he said.

The pastor said he wasn't surprised the proposition passed, but he had hoped voters would have looked at the question as a moral issue.

``They've forgotten what the Lord said about living right and doing right and being holy,'' he said.

State voters allowed counties to choose whether to sell liquor by the drink in 1984. The next year, voters in 29 of the state's 77 counties approved drink proposals. Three more counties followed the year after that. Since then, enthusiasm to switch from bottle clubs to mixed drink sales has dampened.

Some counties probably will never vote on the issue, said H.T. Scott, assistant director of the state Alcohol Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.

``The rule of thumb, I think, is the Bible Belt,'' Scott said. ``People are opposed to liquor. It's hard to get on the ballot and hard to get people to vote for.''

Although selling individual drinks is illegal in nearly half the state, 17 ``bottle clubs'' dot dry counties.

A third of those clubs are in Bryan County, and most probably will trade in their bottle license for an individual drink license, Scott said.