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Monday, 19 March, 2001, 11:42 GMT
Mormons under pressure on drink
Utah State Capital Building
The campaign is deeply dividing the Mormon state of Utah
In just under a year the Winter Olympics start in Salt Lake City in Utah - but some in the Olympic movement are worried that spectators will stay away because of the Mormon state's strict drinking laws. James Cove reports from Utah.

In an unprecedented political move, the mayor of Salt Lake City has launched a campaign to get the liquor laws changed in time for the Games and a heated debate is now raging across the state.


If people don't like our culture then they should stay at home

An elderly resident of Salt Lake City
This is a risky political strategy that could backfire on him as Mormons shun alcohol and many believe the liquor laws should not be relaxed.

At present it is possible to get a drink in Utah, but it is difficult. All bars in Utah are private clubs and you have to be a member to get in.

This usually costs about $5 and you can get it on the door, or alternatively you can ask a member to sponsor you and then you are allowed in.

Influx of skiers

It is relatively easy to get into a bar, but many people in the tourist industry believe it confuses visitors and the membership requirement should be scrapped in time for the Olympics.

Winter Olympics 2002 - mascots
Thousands of visitors are expected to Utah next winter
Jo Nichols from the British tour company Crystal, which hopes to take hundreds of visitors to Utah next winter, says the laws must change or skiers will stay away and the state will not benefit from the massive influx of skiers the Winter Olympics could bring.

"The liquor laws are outmoded and out of date and we must change them if we want to attract international visitors to Utah" says Rocky Anderson, the Mayor of Salt Lake City.

"The Games are 12 months away but we must act now if we want to get things done," he adds.

'Bizarre by-laws'

Mr Anderson is also concerned that alcohol can only be bought at state liquor stores, which are few and far between, and he believes people over 21 years of age should be able to buy wine and beer from ordinary grocery stores.

There are also some bizarre by-laws so, for example, in a restaurant the waiter is not allowed to offer the wine list to diners as this is deemed to be encouraging drinking.

Mayor Rocky Anderson
Mr Anderson wants the liquor laws changed
However he can give it to them if they ask for it directly.

On a Sunday in some bars you cannot buy locally brewed beer that is 3.1% in strength, but you are able to buy imported beer that is much stronger.

Also a bar tender can be legally held responsible for the death of a driver if he has served him drink knowing that he was then going to drive.

Divide

The campaign to change the liquor laws is deeply dividing the Mormon state of Utah and the majority of Mormons do not want the laws changed.

The congregation at the Wallsberg church near the Olympic resort of Park City agreed that the laws should stay the same and if visitors did not like the drinking rules then they should not come.

Skier
If the laws don't change skiers will stay away
"If people don't like our culture then they should stay at home. They should appreciate us for what we are," one elderly lady told BBC News Online outside church as she went in for a service early one Sunday morning.

Senior political figures are also opposing Mr Anderson's campaign, pointing out that he is only trying to get the vote of the drinking and entertainment industry.

"When we got the Games everyone knew the laws here and we were not asked to change them so we shouldn't do so now," says Lane Beattie, who is a former president of the Utah Senate and sits as the governor's representative on the Salt Lake Games organising committee.

Salt Lake City bids for Winter Olympics 2002
The majority of Mormons do not want the laws changed
"Alcohol kills more people in America than tobacco and we should treat the issue responsibly".

But whatever the outcome, both Mr Anderson and the rest of Utah do not want the outside world to think it is impossible to get a drink in Utah.

Alcohol is difficult to get hold of and the bars may not have the same après ski atmosphere as their Alpine counterparts in Europe, but drinking is not outlawed.

There is an old saying in Utah: "If you can't get a drink in Utah then you are simply not thirsty enough."

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See also:

07 Jan 00 | States
Utah
09 Feb 99 | Americas
Games bid under scrutiny
09 Feb 99 | Americas
Olympic probe condemns two
06 Feb 01 | Americas
Utah loves Jell-O - official
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