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Tampa Bay residents big winners in Florida liquor license drawing

Liquor behind the bar at the Pelican Pub, 18 2nd St N, in downtown St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times (2018)]
Published Jun. 7

Residents of the Tampa Bay area were the big winners in this year's drawing for Florida liquor quota licenses despite a record number of entries.

Of the 59 licenses available, 18 potentially will go to entrants with a bay area address.

In a double-random selection process, state officials in Tallahassee today drew from among 28,544 entries. Last year's drawing, for 51 licenses, attracted 15,716 entries. Quota licenses — awarded on the basis of one for every 7,500 increase in a county's population — are considered the most valuable type of liquor license, and licenses in some counties can be sold for $400,000 or more.

The "winners'' are not automatically eligible for a license. They must pass a background check and pay $10,750, which goes into a fund used solely for alcohol and drug abuse education, treatment, and prevention programs.

Two of the new Hillsborough County licenses potentially will go to bay area residents — one with a St. Petersburg address and the other with a Clearwater address. A Belleair Beach woman potentially will get the new Hernando license while the Pasco license potentially will go to a man from Odessa.

Tallahassee lawyer Tony Glover, who represents clients seeking to get or transfer a license, said neither he nor any of his clients were winners this year. But he enjoys the process.

"The state distributes millions of dollars worth of liquor licenses through the lottery, so this is the most exciting day of the year at my office,'' he said in an email. "It's a unique opportunity for small business owners and investors to upgrade their business or make money by reselling the license.

Public interest in the license system — little publicized by the state — has increased since a 2018 Tampa Bay Times story reported that the potential rewards are great. Glover said the going rate for licenses in Hillsborough is $125,000 and in Miami-Dade between $120,000 and $170,000.

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

Unlike most beverage licenses, which are limited to beer and wine or a specific location, quota licenses are coveted because they can be used almost anywhere in the county that zoning permits. And the only ways to get one are to buy it or win it.

Hillsborough had the second highest number of licenses available this year (five to Miami-Dade's eight) and the second greatest number of applicants (2,602 to Orange County's 2,630.)

Applicants can enter the drawing for every county for which a license is available, but they can submit only one entry per county and must pay a $100 entry fee per county. Some individuals and companies submit multiple entries: this year's winners, for licenses in Lake and Palm Beach counties, include three people from the same Fort Myers address that has had several winners in past years.

READ MORE: Most of Tampa Bay's new liquor licenses won by applicants from South Florida, Tallahassee

Under state law, the entry period for the license drawing runs for 45 days each year starting on the third Monday in August. This year it will be August 19.

The drawings are held the following year but generally earlier in the spring than this year's drawing." I strongly suspect that the delay was based on volume of entries,'' Glover said. "The lottery isn't just for insiders anymore, like I hear it was in the 80s.''

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

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