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December 11, 2018

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Las Vegas drinking laws explained

Quad Renovation

Mona Shield Payne

A bartender adds some flair as he tosses alcohol bottles for patrons at the renovated Catalyst Bar on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, in The Quad.

Besides gambling, no pastime better defines Las Vegas culture than drinking.

Famous for its lax alcohol rules, the city draws millions of visitors each year eager to imbibe publicly without fear of arrest. This party town’s love for libations runs deep, and its genesis dates back to Las Vegas’ birth more than a century ago.

“Las Vegas was where you went to be certified an adult,” said UNLV history professor Michael Green, who has written a number of books about the city. “You could come here and do all the things you weren’t supposed to do back home.”

Even through the Prohibition era, local law enforcement officials looked the other way when alcohol laws were violated. Green says today’s loose regulations are a result of the city’s 24-hour culture (even in its early days as a desert train stop), its dependence on tourism and its libertarian streak.

Still, revelers are subject to some city ordinances, county regulations and state laws — and they can be confusing for visitors and locals alike.

Here’s a quick guide to what you can -- and can't -- do:

With few exceptions, public drinking is allowed throughout Las Vegas.

Carrying an open container of alcohol and consuming it publicly is legal in the city of Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County, which includes the Strip.

The Strip, by the way, isn’t actually in Las Vegas — it falls within the boundaries of Paradise, which also includes UNLV and McCarran International Airport.

“We have no issues with people drinking out in the open,” Metro Police spokesman Larry Hadfield said.

There are some exceptions: Drinking isn’t allowed within 1,000 feet of a church, synagogue, public or private school, hospital, withdrawal management facility or homeless shelter.

Container laws, however, can be tricky.

If liquor was purchased in a closed container, it may not be consumed on the premises, or within 1,000 feet, of the store.

But if a drink is purchased in an open container, like, say, a plastic cup, then it is legal to consume the beverage in public.

“If you buy a beer from a hotel bar and go to (another place), you can do that,” Hadfield said. “That’s why some casinos transfer beverages into plastic cups as people leave.”

Glass containers aren’t allowed on the Strip.

A Clark County ordinance that passed in September makes it illegal to carry glass beverage containers on the Strip. Officials said the rule was created to cut back on litter and prevent people from using bottles as weapons.

The county already had a ban on glass and aluminum bottles on the Strip during New Year’s Eve festivities, which draw hundreds of thousands of people annually. The recent decision extends the ban year-round.

Plastic cups and containers are allowed.

Drinking isn’t allowed in vehicles.

Those planning to catch a ride between bars have to toss their drink first.

Nevada state law prohibits all open containers in vehicles.

Booze can be bought anytime in Nevada.

Unlike in neighboring states like Utah, where alcohol can’t be served past 1 a.m., bars here are free to stay open 24 hours a day.

Las Vegas’ convenience stores, supermarkets and ubiquitous liquor shops can also sell packaged alcohol anytime.

In Utah, by contrast, bottled booze can only be purchased during business hours at select shops and state-run liquor stores.

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