Officials: Effective measures in place to stop underage drinking at cigar festival

The Pla Mor Ballroom, site of a planned Feb. 12 cigar smoking party, has a good reputation for handling mixed-aged crowds and keeping drinks out of the hands of minors, a local official says.

The Pla Mor, 6600 West O St., monitors parties closely when the crowd includes people younger than 21, said Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner.

It also turns in to law enforcement minors who try to buy alcohol, said Wagner.

But that doesn’t erase the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission’s concerns about a state smoking waiver process that leaves the commission out of the loop.

This is not about the Pla Mor, said Commissioner Bob Batt of Omaha. It’s about the policy.

“We have no evidence that the Pla Mor has done anything wrong. And we are not accusing him (the owner) of anything,” Batt said Thursday after Pla Mor owner Gene Benes said he felt questions raised by the commissioner reflected on his business.

The Pla Mor Ballroom

The Pla Mor Ballroom

Batt talked about issues that should be considered with a waiver request, like a plan for handling minors who might attend a cigar party.

The Pla Mor was simply the venue for the first waiver of the statewide smoking ban, Batt said.

Commissioners believe they should be part of the waiver process when the venue is a business with a liquor license so they can make sure liquor laws and rules are considered.

Under state law, the Department of Health and Human Services handles waivers to the clean indoor air act.

This is the third cigar festival at the Pla Mor, but the first time festival organizers had to get a waiver because people could smoke in bars and restaurants until the statewide ban took effect in June.

Benes said Pla Mor has a plan for handling events to which minors are invited.

The club gives arm bands to adults old enough to drink and hires security guards for the big parties like the cigar festival, which drew about 225 people last year, he said.

“We keep a real close tab on it,” he said.

But Liquor Control Commission Executive Director Hobert Rupe fears businesses that seek waivers in the future may not have Benes’ experience.

“The commissioners are just trying to be proactive, trying to nip problems in the bud before they happen,” Rupe said.

The cigar festival organizer says he just wants to make sure he’s following state law and providing an event at which people can have fun for five hours.

The emphasis at the cigar festival is “on the cigar tasting and not on the alcohol,” said Dallen George, who got the waiver for the cigar festival.


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