Photo courtesy of the House Democrats
HARTFORD, CT – Connecticut took a step Wednesday toward joining the growing list of states that allow self-service liquor machines.

The House of Representatives voted 129-19 in favor of a bill allowing the self-serve machines, which look like soda machines but are stocked with beer and wine, in establishments that have liquor licenses.

The machines cannot serve more than 32 ounces of beer and 10 ounces of wine before a permittee or employee reactivate the payment card.

Rep. David Arconti, D-Danbury, the bill’s sponsor, said one of the main reasons he sponsored the bill was to take advantage of the state’s growing craft beer business.

The machines, Arconti, said, will allow beer lovers to purchase “small amounts of different craft beers,” instead of having to buy bigger glasses of beers at a brewery or a restaurant to try and figure out which one suits a taster’s palate.

One of the bill’s big supporters was P.J. Prunty, executive director of CityCenter in Danbury. The machines, Prunty said during the public hearing that the bill, “will attract customers and add vibrancy to the country’s Main Streets and downtown areas; this is a progressive idea that will assist with economic development. This would encourage relevant businesses to open, but also add to the overall economic vitality of the area.”

Prunty said that the self-pouring machines are good fits for locations such as old warehouses or abandoned garages, places that might otherwise remain unoccupied.

Also testifying in favor, during the public hearing was Geoffrey Brennan of Oxford.

“Forty-three states currently allow for self-pouring alcohol technology with many other states considering legislation. Self-pouring technology is most suited for consumers who are interested in sampling a variety of craft and premium spirits,” Brennan said.

The bill did have its opponents, including Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook.

Carney said he has “concerns” about people drinking and then driving after utilizing the machines. He added that he also had concerns that the “further automation” that the machines would bring would create a potential job loss for bartenders and others who work in alcohol-serving businesses.

But Arconti said that jobs shouldn’t be lost, stating that there will be a need to have personnel at each location a machine is located to check ID’s and manage the customer flow.

Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, said he was at first inclined to vote in favor, but he, too, “am concerned about drinking and driving.” He voted against the bill.

But Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, said he liked the idea, saying it “creates a buzz.”

“As old as I might be I am not opposed to new technology,” Godfrey, who voted in favor, said.

As far as concerns over under age and excessive drinking, Arconti said establishments in other states have ways to both prevent sales to minors and to prevent excessive consumption by adults.

Establishments can either limit the amount of alcohol served by machines that are at tables, or require customers to buy prepaid cards in order to activate the machines, among other safeguards.

Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said his department would be “happy to work with proponents of the bill to amend regulations to allow use of machines to serve liquor providing necessary steps are taken to protect minors.”

The bill now heads to the Senate.