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Alcohol-sale stings put restaurants on high alert, led to new rules

A SECOND ROUND OF SENIOR CARDING: After the July 7 column addressed alcohol sellers/servers who demand ID from seniors, a reader emails “I am quite a bit older than (the reader) who complained about being carded for trying to buy booze. He’s right; it’s most annoying, and I’m glad to have the words of the law to offer the youngsters whose grandma I could well be.”

To summarize, the state law states carding is to ensure the purchaser is at least 21.

And James Steeves emails he gets carded “even though I’m clearly well into the ‘geezer’ category at almost 77 years of age and walk with a cane,” so “here’s how I handle it”:

When a server asks for I.D., he fibs and says he doesn’t have it on him. “So, instead of ordering a beer with my (meal, I say I’ll) just have a glass of water. Realizing that there is no profit in ‘selling’ customers water instead of beer, this put(s) the problem into the hands of (the restaurant).”


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Guess what? “In all the times … since, no mention of an I.D. has been made. So, what’s the deal? Is it the law or isn’t it?”

Let’s ask someone who sells liquor as part of their living.

Matt DiGregory, of Range Cafe and Standard Diner fame, emails he wants to shed some light on the practice of universal carding and rejection of all vertical IDs – issued to drivers under 21 – no matter the holder’s current age. He explains it “stems from sting operations that were being run by (State Police’s) Special Investigations Division and the Albuquerque Police Department in recent years.” Both were “undercover and busting servers for serving underage people. My businesses got hit with this, and at least two of my employees fell victim to these sting operations. I heard of numerous other servers who were ‘caught’. In all of the cases I heard of a vertical ID was presented, in all cases the servers asked for IDs and swore that they checked the date and insisted that the person was over 21. In all cases, once the server was arrested – a fourth-degree felony – they asked to take a second look at the ID and were denied for ‘privacy’ reasons. It wasn’t until the cases went to trial before they were shown a copy of the ID. Of course this made business owners skeptical of the legality as well as the honesty of the officers doing the sting.

“We were then told by the APD guy who was organizing the sting operations that they were going to start running sting operations for valid IDs,” Matt says. “They told us that they would be sending people in who did not have IDs on them and they would order a drink and if the server did not ask for an ID they would be issued a citation for failure to card someone – again, a fourth-degree felony!”

Matt explains that even though the Alcohol and Gaming Division then “issued a letter to all license holders in New Mexico that stated that there was nothing in the Liquor Control Act that said that this was required,” and staffing changed at APD, and SID decided “sting operations on a random basis were going to be stopped unless they had complaints about a specific business,” the fear of citations had been planted, and deep.

“Word got out that people were being arrested on the spot and facing jail time for not checking IDs,” he says, “which led to businesses making policy that everyone had to be carded. My business no longer accepts vertical IDs, and several other places have stopped accepting them as well. There are actually three different dates on a vertical ID: issue date, expiration date and date the individual turns 21. This makes it very difficult to figure out the correct date to determine if the person is 21, especially in a bar or restaurant setting.”

Bottom line? Matt says “there isn’t a law stating that everyone needs to be carded; servers are just being extra careful as they don’t want to go to jail for serving someone who shouldn’t be served.”

SO SHOULD SERVERS LOOK AT A VERTICAL DATE? Corliss A. Fenimore emails “my grandson was visiting from California over the Fourth of July holiday. When he tried to purchase a beer, he was refused because his California driver’s license has a vertical orientation instead of a horizontal one, even though it clearly indicates that he is over 21. He isn’t due to renew it for a couple of years. Does that mean that he can’t purchase alcohol in New Mexico until he renews his California driver’s license?


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Not under the law, but servers/sellers might be relying on a blanket policy like the one mentioned above.

New Mexico also issues vertical licenses to drivers under 21. S.U. Mahesh, spokesman for the state Taxation and Revenue Department, says “it appears this is a clerical error. Most establishments when carding you look at your DOB and determine if you’re over 21.”

Unless it’s vertical and they won’t.

Assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays and West Siders and Rio Ranchoans on Saturdays. Reach her at 823-3858 or