After Chicago reportedly cracked down on 81 businesses that offered drink specials on New Year’s Eve in 2013, there are fewer open-bar deals and happy-hour specials being offered this year.
According to Illinois’ Happy Hour Law, no business may serve an unlimited number of drinks during a fixed period of time to the public at large. The only open bars that are technically allowed are at prearranged, private functions; a business can’t offer two-for-one drink deals; and drinks cannot be awarded for winning a game or a contest. It’s also illegal to change the price of a drink during the same day, a way of forbidding happy-hour specials. But bars can still have daily specials, such as $2 beers on Mondays, under this law.
The intent of the law is to prevent binge drinking and drunk driving. But it’s not clear this is the best policy to address either of these problems. Illinois is one of only a handful of states in the U.S. that prohibits happy hours altogether.
The fact that city officials haven’t been publicizing their efforts suggests the city is more interested in taking money from businesses than protecting anyone’s health and safety. Fines for violating the law range from $1,000-$5,000. And when the city can revoke the license of anyone who refuses to pay up, businesses are left with little choice but to pay the bill or fight it in court. As one former Chicago prosecutor described it, “Going after people on New Year’s Eve for happy hour violations is low-hanging fruit.”