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UPDATED: New Bill Would Loosen Virginia’s Strict Happy Hour Advertising Rules

01/10/2019

UPDATE: This bill has passed both the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature. The bill, now known as SB 1170 after incorporating similar bills, faced little opposition during its journey through the General Assembly: Senate vote was 39-0, House vote 94-2. Barring some unforeseen hitch, the advertising of beverage prices during happy hour will soon be legal in Virginia.


The 2019 Session of the General Assembly opened Wednesday (marking its 400th anniversary), and we already have another beverage-related bill to discuss. SB 1170 would eliminate the requirement that the ABC Board regulate happy hour pricing advertising for on-premise licensees.

We’ll need to dive into the law a bit for this one. Virginia Code §4.1-111 lays out the regulations for the Virginia ABC Board. 4.111(B)(15) states that the Board shall “Prescribe the terms for any "happy hour" conducted by on-premises licensees. Such regulations shall permit on-premises licensees to advertise any alcoholic beverage products featured during a happy hour but prohibit the advertising of and any pricing related to such happy hour.” Accordingly, the ABC Board was entitled to make rules regulating happy hour advertising so long as those rules prevented establishments from advertising happy hour prices.

So what sort of rules did the ABC Board draft? The Board listed happy hour advertising rules it came up with in 3VAC5-50-160. Outside the establishment, licensees may only advertise that they have “happy hour” or “drink specials.” Anything else goes against the Board regulations.

Now look back to our discussion of 4.1-111. Senator Jeremy McPike’s proposed amendment would change the language to this:

“Prescribe the terms for any "happy hour" conducted by on-premises licensees. Such regulations shall permit on-premises licensees to advertise any alcoholic beverage products featured during a happy hour and any pricing related to such happy hour. Such regulations shall not prohibit on-premises licensees from using creative marketing techniques in such advertisements, provided that such techniques do not tend to induce overconsumption or consumption by minors.”

As you can see, Senator McPike’s amendment would force the ABC Board to allow a licensee to advertise which products it offers for happy hour, as well as the price of such products. As for the “creative marketing techniques” portion of the amendment, I’m as excited as you to see what the ABC Board will allow.

Beginning with our discussion of SB 1064 last week, LeClairRyan will continue to be your source of information for beverage-related bills proceeding through the General Assembly this Session.

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