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Belly up: Florida liquor licenses up for grabs starting next week

Liquor behind the bar at the Pelican Pub in downtown St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | 2018 | Times]
Published Aug. 16

The application period for Florida liquor licenses starts Monday with big demand expected for the one Pinellas County license that will be available.

The county wasn't eligible for any new licenses this year so the next one issued should have considerable value.

"It will be well sought after,'' said Horace Moody, president of a Tallahassee company that brokers license sales. "I'd say it would be worth in the $200,000s.''

Hillsborough will get four new licenses and Pasco two in the annual drawing to be held sometime next year. A total of 51 licenses in 27 counties will be available.

READ MORE: Florida's liquor license lottery can make you a ton of money. So why is it such a secret?

Florida is among a handful of states that allocate liquor quota licenses via random computerized drawings. The licenses — issued on the basis of one for every 7,500 increase in a county's population — are coveted because they can be used almost anywhere in the county where zoning permits. (Beer and wine licenses are limited to a specific location.)

For a 45-day period starting Monday, applicants can enter the drawing for every county in which a license is available but they can submit only one entry per county and must pay a $100 entry fee each time. The winners are not automatically eligible for a license; they must pass a background check and pay $10,750 that goes into a fund for alcohol and drug abuse education, treatment and prevention programs. (For an application, go online to the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.)

This year's drawing drew a record number of entries — 28,544 — due in part to greater publicity about the process. Moody said he noticed many more "new people'' among the winners than in past years, when the number of entries was much smaller and those who entered multiple drawings year after year had a relatively good chance of getting at least one license.

READ MORE: Tampa Bay residents big winners in Florida liquor license drawing

Typically, most people sell their licenses although first-time winners often have inflated expectations of the value.

"They get a flood of calls from brokers who want them to sell and that excites them,'' Moody said. "A license might be worth $100,000 or $200,000 but the (broker) says $300,000. The problem is, there really isn't a buyer at that price.''

A former Levy County sheriff and enforcement chief for the state beverage division, Moody has been in private business long enough that winners generally come to him rather than vice versa. This year, he's sold Seminole and Sumter county licenses for about $185,000 each and is working on the sale of a Duval-Jacksonville license that will be "pretty good" — around $375,000.

Of the 59 licenses awarded this year, Moody estimates that about 10 have been sold so far. Restaurant operators purchase many of the licenses while Publix and other grocers opening new stores buy them so they can sell liquor.

Among those applying this time is Seth Inlow, 31, who works for a nonprofit in Manatee County. He plans to enter the drawing for one county on his own — probably Manatee — and might go in with four coworkers on a second entry.

"My dad owned a bar (in Indiana) when I was younger and he's always thought about trying it again,'' Inlow said. "Now that he's retired I've encouraged him to come to Florida and do it down here.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

Counties with new liquor licenses available in 2020

Bay (1); Manatee (1); Brevard (1); Orange (5); Broward (3); Osceola (2); Charlotte (1); Palm Beach (3); Collier (1); Pasco (2); Dade (6); Pinellas (1); Polk (3); Escambia (1); St. Johns (1); Flagler (1); St. Lucie (1); Hillsborough (4); Santa Rosa (1); Indian River (1); Sarasota (1); Lake (2); Seminole (1); Lee (2); Volusia (1) and Leon (1).

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