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3 On Your Side: Pennsylvania Giving Away Free Booze At Your Expense?

By Ben Simmoneau

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - You can get a free bottle of booze, and it will end up costing taxpayers. Sounds crazy, but it's true in Pennsylvania.

The CBS 3 I-Team went undercover in a state store to check it out. All we had to do was buy one bottle of wine, open it, empty it, smash it and take back the broken glass. Presto! They gave us a new bottle of wine, no charge, no questions asked.

It's all part of the I-Team's look at waste in Pennsylvania State stores. Records obtained by the CBS 3 I-Team show the Liquor Control Board last year lost $2.5 million worth of wine and liquor: bottles broken, stolen or just plain missing. The year before, it was $3 million. And that was a year the whole system only made $52 million.

"It's just not acceptable, and something needs to be done about that," said Pennsylvania State Representative Tom Killion (R, Delaware County). He says taxpayers end up paying because losses cut into profits, which is money that goes to state programs, everything from roads to schools to State Police.

The big losers among state stores are all in our area. One store, on City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd lost $98,274.21 of booze the last two years. In second is a store on Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia, losing $85,346.41. The I-Team stopped by both stores but were told to contact officials in Harrisburg, so we went to Liquor Control Board Chairman Joseph Brion.

"We're looking into that," Brion said when asked about the top losing stores. He's been on the job just five months. "We're like any other retailer. There is sometimes theft, there is sometimes breakage, there are sometimes issues that you have to deal with."

The records don't show exactly how most of the product was lost or stolen, but we do know how much went to broken bottles: $1,087,010.89 in two years. Some of those bottles were broken by employees, but there is also a generous replacement policy for customers.

"If a customer breaks a bottle, and the bottle cap has not been opened, the breakage policy is that you would get another bottle," said Brion. He says it doesn't matter where the bottle is broken – in a store or at home.

So the I-Team tested that policy.

And we ended up getting two free bottles, including one shocker: a store on Old York Road in Jenkintown replaced a bottle that had been opened and emptied. Perhaps it's no surprise that store had lots of butterfingers: $17,004.72 worth of bottles broken by workers and customers in two years.

"Sounds like a lot of free booze," State Rep. Killion said.

What happened in Jenkintown and at another store – which actually denied us a replacement bottle – shows there is confusion about the state's return policy. Brion told us the Liquor Control Board is going to make sure employees at all 600 stores know the rules.

CBS 3 is returning the two free bottles we received.

Here's a list of the top 10 Pennsylvania State Stores in terms of product lost, stolen or broken along with the amount that was lost in the last two fiscal years:

1. 119 West City Avenue, Bala Cynwyd: $98,274.21
2. 5101 Lancaster Avenue, Philadelphia: $85,346.41
3. 2401 Vare Avenue (24th & Oregon), Philadelphia: $80,888.64
4. 1218 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia: $75,698.63
5. 232 West Girard Avenue (this store has since relocated), Philadelphia: $71,269.77
6. 4600 Lancaster Avenue, Philadelphia: $69,890.50
7. 143 South Gulph Road, King of Prussia: $61,437.78
8. 4229 North Broad Street, Philadelphia: $61,401.01
9. Freedom Square Shopping Center, 5113 Germantown Pike, Philadelphia: $55,511.69
10. 2117 North American Street, Philadelphia: $43,654.13

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