The Thirsty Beagle: Fun with comparisons: Oklahoma vs. Texas

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Fun with comparisons: Oklahoma vs. Texas

"Did you know that SJR68 would result in about 340 local businesses closing and about 2000 people losing their job? It's true!"

The Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma posted that statement on its Facebook page on April 26. Sounds scary. By the RLAO's estimation, those 340 stores closing up shop would equate to a full 50 percent of all Oklahoma liquor stores going out of business.

I was curious how RLAO came to that number -- one they've repeated many times. So at the invitation of RLAO leader Bryan Kerr, I went to the website they created, www.conveniencecosts.com, and specifically the "Economic Impact" portion of the site, to do some research. There you can see the basis of the argument.

First, you have to believe RLAO when they say that Senate Joint Resolution 68 would make Oklahoma like Texas in the way the state sells alcohol. (For what it's worth, several alcohol industry veterans have told me that, 1.) Texas has a three-tier distribution system not unlike that employed in numerous states around the country, and that 2.) SJR 68 would actually make Oklahoma more like Missouri, Arkansas and/or Kansas as far as alcohol distribution goes.)

But for the purpose of this exercise, let's assume SJR 68 makes Oklahoma just like Texas. With that established, read this portion from their website:

"In Texas, they have only 1 liquor store for every 10,800 people. In Oklahoma, we have 1 for every 5,600 people. Simple math shows us that overlaying the Texas model in Oklahoma results in nearly half of all local retail package stores going out of business."

The "simple math" goes like this: If Texas has one liquor store for every 10,800 people, and SJR 68 makes Oklahoma just like Texas, then by default Oklahoma would have one liquor store for every 10,800 people. How many liquor stores do you have get rid of in Oklahoma to leave us with one store for every 10,800 people? Roughly 340.

Doesn't that seem likely highly presumptive and circular reasoning?

But let's move on to another portion of the "Economic Impact" argument.

There WAS a portion of the website comparing the number of liquor stores in Carter County, Oklahoma, with those in Lamar County, Texas. Both counties have a population of roughly 50,000, so I suppose you can say it's a like comparison. I can tell you the RLAO website said there are 12 liquor stores in Carter County and only two in Lamar County.

Why so many more liquor stores in Carter County? The RLAO would tell you it's because of Texas' screwy alcohol distribution system.

But you can't read about the Carter/Lamar comparison any more. Why? The RLAO took the comparison down and replaced it with new information after I pointed out to Kerr something interesting about the comparison.

Lamar County has only two liquor stores because it's a partially dry county. That's one of the funny things about comparing Oklahoma and Texas -- Texas does have some screwy alcohol rules. In Texas, your county, city or court jurisdiction can fall into one of four categories: Totally dry; totally wet; partially dry with the sale of only low-point beer allowed; or partially dry with the sale of beer or wine of no more than 14% ABV allowed.

So in three out of four possibilities, you can't sell liquor for off-premise consumption. I may be crazy, but I would say you would never open a liquor store in a situation like that.

Texas has 254 counties. Only 53 are totally wet. Seven are completely dry. The remaining 194 fall somewhere in the middle, as of November 2015 (most recent data available).

Like in Lamar County, on the Oklahoma-Texas border. In four cities in the county, you're not allowed to sell alcohol at all. In the county's biggest city, Paris, you're not allowed to sell distilled spirits for off-premise consumption.

Kerr admitted that if Lamar were totally wet, the county may add "two or three" liquor stores. I would argue they'd add two or three in Paris alone. And probably one in each of the totally dry cities.

By my math, that would add up to seven liquor stores in Lamar County. Imagine that math carried out over the rest of the 201 totally or partially dry counties. For example, in Dallas County, you can't sell liquor for off-premise consumption in all or parts of the cities of Carrollton, Cedar Hill, Combine, Coppell, Desoto, Duncanville, Farmers Branch, Ferris, Garland, Grand Prairie, Grapevine, Irving, Lancaster, Mesquite, Ovilla, Sachse, Seagoville, Sunnyvale, University Park or Wylie.

I think it's pretty easy to see why saying Texas has 10,800 people for every liquor store is actually fairly irrelevant to Oklahoma. And if that's how you're figuring how many Oklahoma liquor stores will go out of business as a result of SJR 68, I think you need to find a new set of numbers to base your assumption on.

Regardless, Kerr told me he thought the Carter/Lamar comparison was still relevant. This even after admitting the comparison wasn't "100% accurate." Kerr also told me he worried I would misrepresent his position. So, let me avoid that by quoting him word-for-word:

Me: "Do you think your comparison of Carter to Lamar county is a relevant comparison, considering Lamar is partly dry?"

Kerr: "I don't think it's 100% accurate but I think it's fair and I certainly think it's relevant for several reasons."

So, to get this straight: It's not 100 percent accurate, but that was good enough to post it on your website and tout it as fact?

And it's fair and relevant, but perhaps not fair and relevant enough to leave up on your website once you were questioned about it?

In the words of the RLAO, "It's true!"

6 comments:

  1. Nice "hit" piece, Nick.
    I noticed you (once again) accused me of manipulating facts and figures then went on to quote "several alcohol industry veterans" who remain unnamed. You also cite your own set of facts based completely on assumption instead of taking a macro view of the situation. You also chastised me for posting new/different information when you pointed out you thought Lamar County comparison was "not right" but did not quote the new info or dispute it. I also see that you used some of what I said but left off the part where I explained why the Lamar County comparison was relevant. You probably didn't have enough space on your blog to be "100% accurate" so let me cut & paste it here...
    "There are plenty of spots in Lamar County where liquor stores could be built but aren't. The example helps to demonstrate the power of foot traffic and convenience since people who want spirits in Paris, TX have to drive to one side of the town or the other (outside city limits) to get a bottle of Jack. This "convenience" factor is amplified in Lamar County and so it provides a good example of how the market works. Obviously, I think the math would say that if Lamar County was fully wet, we would see another 2 or 3 retail package stores there but that is still a far cry from the 12 that compete for consumers in Carter County; a county that is 100 sq miles smaller than Lamar. And remember those two stores in Lamar County also sell to bars, clubs, golf courses, etc. But that's why I used the entire state of Texas when calculating what SJR68 would do to the Oklahoma market and didn't extrapolate the numbers solely from Lamar County. And have been telling people all along that SJR68 likely eliminates about half of the retail package stores in Oklahoma."

    I also told you about an economic impact study done by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States which showed the economic impact of SJR68 (http://ktul.com/news/local/revamped-alcohol-bills-hurt-small-businesses-consumers) which you conveniently omitted from your story.

    In short, your accusations of me seem to be a reflection of your own tactics more than an accurate representation of mine. Isn't it time you simply admit that you're carrying water for Walmart, Miller/Coors and the other "big money" interests instead of pretending like you're just providing facts and considered opinion? Shouldn't you tell your readers that some of those unnamed sources actually have a major financial interest in getting SJR68 passed?

    I know bloggers aren't supposed to be held to the same standards as journalists but, at the very least, they should be willing to tell both sides of the story openly before they pick one and explain why.

    But, it is your blog and it is just your opinion.

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  2. I didn't post your additional comments because they honestly don't really make any sense to me. I found the portion you posted in your comment here to be circular and not really proving anything. As if you're trying to confuse everyone into submission. Besides, you already admitted the comparison was false anyway, so what difference does it make how you want to justify it as relevant?

    And what if I did investigate your new info and challenge it? Would you take that down and post something else then? The point is, I see no point in perpetuating the stuff you're sharing because my experience shows me you have no qualms with misleading the public. Why should I trust that the next thing you post is any more genuine than the first thing?

    Further, for every study by one advocacy group that says we're all going to hell, there's a study by a different group that says everything will be great. Why should I trust either side?

    And, I don't share the names of my sources because I'm protecting them from attacks by groups like yours. The same kinds of petty, juvenile attacks you've carried out on your Facebook page repeatedly whenever someone does something or says something you don't like.

    And lastly, yes, you've nailed it. I'm totally bought and paid for by Walmart and Miller/Coors. I just write whatever they tell me. I personally don't care for Walmart or Miller/Coors, or for these types of name-calling tactics you employ. Trying to smear me like that won't make anyone more inclined to get on board with you. If you'll look at the big picture, you'll see I've been critical of the role of big business the whole time -- even back to 2015. I have called this for what it is -- big business exerting its influence in the legislature. Read back through my blog posts and you'll see that message many times. In fact, Anheuser-Busch is having a beer tasting this week in Bricktown at KD's. I turned down an invitation because I didn't think it would be ethical to accept the offer after being so critical of A-B on my blog.

    I don't care for your bullying tactics. It almost seems as if by raising the level of your rhetoric -- even to name-calling levels and questioning my standards -- you feel that you can convince me and my readers to believe everything you say. It doesn't work like that.

    And yes, you are correct, it is just my opinion. That's what I've clearly stated the whole time! I've encouraged people to not believe it and to come up with their own opinions if they prefer. If your feelings are hurt because I'm pointing out the abrasiveness and/or shortcomings of your tactics in this deal, I don't know what to tell you.

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  3. Thanks for the response Nick.
    A bully has to have power, either real or perceived. I don't.
    You have been unfair to me and my organization.
    You use the excuse that my comments didn't make any sense to you which obviously cannot be refuted since only you can decide whether something makes sense. But you could have posted them in their entirety and let your readers decided if they made any sense to them. You could have at least included the DISCUS study or the numbers my actual claim was based on (statewide numbers) or left off the part about the distribution system in other states...which has little do with how SJR68 hurts retailers. All of these things indicated to me that you had no interest in treating me fairly.

    I don't think you've been purchased by Walmart, I think you have friends in high places that need SJR68 to pass as written and you've decided to write your blog using the information they've fed you. Maybe it's on purpose, maybe not.

    I haven't misled the public unless I've misled myself. I believe what I've posted is backed up by the best numbers that are available. Those same numbers are available to you as well. I try and cite my sources any time I post something.
    I apologize that this has gotten nasty. I really prefer civil discourse but you have treated me unfairly and I just cannot allow you to twist things to fit your predetermined narrative without a response.

    I believe I am fighting to keep many people in business and many people in their jobs. I believe I am fighting against undue corporate influence at the capitol. I believe I am fighting to keep stronger alcohol out of the hands of more teenagers. So my passion may sometimes trump my desire to be polite. I'm sorry that we couldn't find a way to be on the same side of this thing.

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  4. I don't know what to tell you. I think the average person would say that posting and perpetuating something you know not to be true is in fact misleading. That you changed it when I pointed it out doesn't matter in that regard -- it shouldn't have been posted in the first place if it wasn't true. If you can find an argument for that, we'll just have to agree to disagree on what the definition of misleading is.

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    1. Nick,I never posted anything that was untrue. At best, I failed to post additional speculation on what may have played into the lack of liquor stores in that one county. That is neither a lie nor does it invalidate the larger point. I changed it after our discussion because I knew I could find examples that better fit the bigger picture of losing 50% of all locally-owned package stores. In fact, the example I gave you from Bexar County, I found as we were having that discussion. Because you wanted a "wet" to "wet" comparison. But, I think you also just wanted to make the larger point regardless if I could give you a fairer comparison or not. I just gave you an easier target by posting something that did not take other external factors into account.

      I don't understand why you're taking me to task on what was clearly just a poor example of the larger problem instead of calling out people like "Modernize Oklahoma" who actually are claiming that SJR68 will "enhance consumer choice," "create minimal disruption in the market" and "maintain an effective state-based regulatory system." Or that SJR68 "won't drive smaller Oklahoma wholesalers out of business." None of these things are 100% accurate and some are 100% inaccurate.
      Or look at TapOklahoma.org with their claims that "because regular beer can’t be refrigerated, many local craft brewers refuse to sell their product in-state." or "modern alcohol laws will increase state revenue and keep money out of other states, like Texas." Again, at best, only partially true and not backed up with any actual numbers or facts.

      Do you not feel the need to challenge these claims because they don't feel the need to provide any numbers to support them? Could it be because they are just throwing stuff out there that is patently false? Am I just an easier target because I will actually engage in conversation and help you to hang me?

      Whatever the reason, I just hope you'll find a way to be more critical of both sides of this issue in the future.

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  5. Thanks for your explanations Nick. I agree with you; I'm not falling for the fear campaign.

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