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July 23, 2014

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Federal judge: Liquor ordinances will be enforced on Fremont

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Liliana Villegas, 19, drinks beer with her friends on Fremont St. Friday, July 5, 2013.

Fremont Street Enforcement - July 2013

Officer I. Williams cards Christopher Stovner, 22, in the Fremont East District on Friday, July 5, 2013. Launch slideshow »

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected efforts to halt a trio of newly passed liquor ordinances, dealing a blow to a lawsuit filed against Las Vegas by a decades-old souvenir and liquor shop at the Fremont Street Experience.

In her decision, U.S. District Chief Judge Gloria Navarro dissolved a temporary injunction that prevented the city from enforcing two of the new ordinances, which add restrictions for liquor stores that sell packaged liquor. The new rules include limitations on alcohol advertising signage in windows, the sale of malt liquor or beer in containers greater than 32 ounces, and the sale of hard-liquor miniature bottles.

Navarro also denied a request from the shop's attorneys for another temporary injunction against a third ordinance passed July 18 that prohibits glass bottles and aluminum cans on Fremont Street.

Jeff Silvestri, an attorney representing the two companies that operate Souvenir Super Mart in the five-block Fremont Street Experience, argued before Navarro for more than two hours that the liquor regulations were designed to crack down on his client's business in favor of downtown casinos under the guise that the packaged liquor contributes to myriad problems downtown.

"The city scratches its head for five or six years and says, 'I wonder why there's so much drinking on Fremont Street. We can't figure it out,'" Silvestri said. "The solution comes from casinos. And what's the casinos' solution? Packaged liquor is your problem. If we could just get rid of packaged liquor."

The Fremont Street Experience includes such casinos as the Golden Nugget, the Four Queens and Golden Gate. Police and city officials have complained that liquor stores are contributing to a growing problem with rowdy crowds and other public safety issues.

While souvenir and liquor shops can't sell alcohol for consumption in front of their doors, casino bars are allowed to serve whopping portions of booze in portable containers as large as 100 ounces, Silvestri told Navarro, bringing before the judge a set of oversized plastic drink cups sold at downtown casinos. He followed with a 30-minute photo slideshow of people partying on Fremont, including casino promoters in skimpy bikinis and revelers guzzling down big drinks along Fremont's open canopy.

"Downtown is not Disneyland," Silvestri told the judge.

But the reason shops are regulated more heavily is simple, City Attorney Brad Jerbic told Navarro: They don't hold tavern licenses like most casinos and bars do.

And because the Fremont Street Experience's operation and maintenance is fronted entirely through private funding, incentives are given to businesses that contribute significantly to the area.

Some businesses pay as much $75,000 per month to be a part of the Fremont Street Experience, Jerbic told Navarro.

"(Souvenir Super Mart) bargained for packaged liquor (licensing). They did not bargain for tavern (licensing)," Jerbic said. "That's like Albertsons coming in here, saying, 'I want people to drink in my parking lot.'"

The suit, filed May 28 by Souvenir Super Mart owners Aliza Elazar-Higuchi and Eli Elezra, may proceed if its plaintiffs so choose. In their complaint, the siblings demand unspecified damages for revenue lost because of the new restrictions. A second company, ABC Stores, joined the suit on June 11.

Higuchi, Elezra and attorneys for both parties declined to comment about Navarro's decision.

It is not clear when the new ordinances will start being enforced.

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