Bottoms Up

No, you're not drunk. But the folks in charge of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board might be, so says Auditor General Jack Wagner in a scathing new audit of the PLCB's much-mocked wine kiosks.

Chances are, you haven't experienced the hilarity of trying to buy wine from a vending machine. When I spent an afternoon in April standing in front of one of the contraptions in an East Norriton ShopRite, I was the only customer in an hour. That kiosk sold just 147 bottles in three months. Make that 150 if you count the three bottles I bought out of obligation while reporting my column.

Perhaps oenophiles are repelled by the poor choice of mass-market swill? Or perhaps they're put off by having to puff into the internal Breathalyzer to prove they haven't already had too much to drink. When is the last time you were that intimate with a machine in public?

Back to Wagner. The Auditor General came to pretty much the same conclusion I did: that the temperamental kiosks -- which went kaput before the crucial holiday season -- have cost taxpayers too much and should be emptied if the PLCB can't fix them, fast.

"We think the wine kiosk program has failed, and it needs dramatic, radical changes if the program is going to continue to exist," Wagner said at a press conference in the Capitol this afternoon.

Beyond the mechanical failures, the audit cited the obvious: The kiosks do not make it easier or more convenient for customers to buy wine. Nor have they resulted in big bucks for the state.

In fact, as of this summer, the PLCB has spent more to operate the kiosks than they made, to the tune of about $1.1 million.


-- Monica Yant Kinney