If you ask people what the drinking age is in Pennsylvania most will quickly answer 21. Indeed, since prohibition was repealed in 1933, Pennsylvania’s legal drinking age has been 21 years of age. For a licensed establishment, serious penalties and fines occur when the licensee is caught providing alcoholic beverages to an individual below that age. A licensee caught selling alcohol to any minor is usually fined $1,250 to $1,400 for its first offense. If the licensee is caught more than two times within a renewal period (a two-year window), it faces stiffer fines and the possibility of the liquor license being suspended or revoked.
To prevent service to a minor, most establishments request identification from some if not all customers seeking to purchase alcohol. Acceptable forms of identification include: a valid photo driver’s license or identification card issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or another state; a valid armed forces of the United States identification card; a valid passport or a travel visa issued by the United States or from another country if that identification contains the holder’s photograph and birthdate.
Such identification is to be presented by the customer upon request of any licensee or its employee for the purpose of determining whether the customer is at least 21. The identification should be inspected in good faith by the person conducting the examination. A customer may be required by a licensee to complete and sign a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (“LCB”) designed form is to be kept on file by the licensee on its premises.
Additional protection is provided to a licensee who requests proper identification and uses an ID-scanning device to check the ID’s authenticity. It should be noted that the State Police report an increasing number of fake forms of identification that pass scanning machines, therefore it is imperative that all identification be visually examined in good faith even if it is also scanned. If a bouncer or bartender suspects an ID to be a forgery but it is accepted by the scanner, the licensee can still be held accountable.
The State Police Bureau of Liquor Code Enforcement (“LCE”) runs regular compliance checks on licensed establishments to determine if proper age validation procedures are being used. In the past, the LCE has hired individuals who are 19 and 20 years of age to assist with their compliance check. These underage agents enter licensed establishments under the supervision of LCE officers and attempt to purchase alcoholic beverages using their actual legal identification. If the licensee fails to check for I.D. properly, and serves the individual, the Licensee and its employee will receive a citation. The LCE may also “raid” a licensed establishment in which case they identify themselves to all the patrons and employees in the establishment and check the identification of each suspected minor on the premises.
Finally, if local police arrive and investigate a disturbance in or near a licensed establishment and determine that a patron is a minor and has purchased alcohol, that incident gets reported to the LCB and LCE and the licensee may be cited.
Minors are permitted in most licensed establishments provided they are supervised. Licensees and their employees have the right to refuse alcohol service to anyone even if they produce a valid form of identification. Serving a minor is one of the most serious violations a licensee can commit. Proper training from programs such as RAMP or TIPS can help employees of licensed establishments reduce the chances of serving a minor. If your licensed establishment receives a citation for service to a minor, it is important that you speak with an attorney who can inform you of your rights and obligations. We have been assisting licensees for more than 50 years and are well versed in all aspects of liquor law.
– J. Ken Butera