OPELOUSAS — The Opelousas Board of Aldermen agreed Tuesday night to change the rules for businesses seeking to sell liquor inside the city limits beyond the current closing time now allowed by a five-year old ordinance.
Bars in Opelousas are generally required to close between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., but an exception was carved out for businesses where the sale of alcohol accounts for less than 15 percent of gross revenue during those hours.
The exception has allowed alcohol sales to continue past 2 a.m. at Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino, where Mayor Donald Cravins Sr. has said drinks are given away as long as customers are playing slot machines.
Stallions, off Interstate 49, which operates as a restaurant as well as a bar and music venue, has stayed open past 2 a.m. under the same exemption, arguing that cover charges at the door combined with food sales have pushed its alcohol sales below 15 percent of gross revenue.
The measure considered by the aldermen on Tuesday requires that cover charges be considered the same as alcohol sales.
The proposed change in the city’s bar-closing law would not affect Evangeline Downs, a major revenue source for local government.
According to the amended ordinance passed by a 4-2 vote, establishments whose alcohol sales are less than 15 percent of their gross revenue must also begin charging an admission fee if they wish to remain open after 2 a.m.
“I have grave concerns about what’s happening,” Cravins said last month of what he characterized as large late-night crowds at Stallions.
Cravins alleged that Stallions is likely linked to two recent incidents.
In one, a man who had been at Stallions was killed while trying to cross Interstate 49 near the business, Cravins said, and in another, a man was shot during a disturbance at a nearby convenience store.
Stallions attorney Derriel McCorvey has countered that neither event took place at the business and said there is no evidence linking the shooting incident to anything that occurred at Stallions.
McCorvey has said there have been no incidents of violence at the business since it opened in November 2011 and that Stallions hires eight security officers when it stays open past 2 a.m.
After Tuesday’s vote, McCorvey said the admission fee now required by the amended ordinance is basically “an alcohol fee,” that will also reduce the establishment’s revenues.
Alderman Blair Briggs has said the alcohol fee means that Stallions’ main source of revenue will be mainly for alcoholic beverages under the new ordinance, which becomes effective in 30 days.
In a presentation before Tuesday’s vote, McCorvey told the board that Stallions serves food to customers during the entire time that it remains open, which he said means the business has been in compliance with the current ordinance.
Cravins said a review of sales tax receipts does not indicate how much of Stallions’ business is from the sale of food or alcohol.
“We have no report that shows anything about the alcohol sales (at Stallions) as compared to other sales,” Cravins said.
McCorvey said the amended ordinance “is being introduced mainly to put Stallions out of business.”
Briggs said the new ordinance “has nothing to do with putting anybody out of business. It just deals with the hours of operation.”
McCorvey said the ordinance is also unfair because Evangeline Downs is allowed to remain open and serve alcohol, while Stallions and other businesses wishing to do so after 2 a.m. are closed.
McCorvey said he has had discussions with Cravins over the past few weeks in an attempt to have the board consider extending the closing hours of Stallions and businesses selling primarily alcohol, but he received no response from the Mayor’s Office.
Voting to approve the amendment were Briggs, Joseph Charles, Julius Alsandor and Reginald Tatum. Louis Butler, Jr., and Jacqueline Martin voted against the amendment.