Dry Counties and Changing Liquor Laws in Oklahoma

Betty Boop's Nightclub
••• This nightclub in dry Ellis County is fittingly named for a prohibition-era icon. By Ammodramus (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Liquor laws in Oklahoma are consistently applied throughout the state in regard to things such as liquor store rules and regulations, age restrictions on purchasing, open container laws and driving under the influence limits. But when it comes to liquor by the drink sales in restaurants and bars, the laws are decided by the state's individual counties. Therefore, Oklahoma has had many so-called "wet counties" and some "dry counties." 

Liquor laws are published and enforced by the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission of Oklahoma. And, these laws are changing.

Defining a Dry County in Oklahoma

Well, technically there are no true "dry counties" in the state of Oklahoma. A truly dry county means that the sale of alcoholic beverages is completely forbidden by law in that county. This can't be the case in Oklahoma since state law has allowed residents to buy low-point beer (between 0.5 percent and 3.2 percent alcohol by weight) in restaurants, convenience stores, and grocery stores, and they can purchase liquor or strong beer at liquor stores.

So for Oklahoma, the term "dry county" is often used to designate those in which liquor cannot be served by the drink in restaurants and bars. In addition, there are some counties where liquor by the drink is allowed throughout the week but not on Sundays. 

The Changing Liquor Laws

In 2016, State Question 792, a citizen initiative designed to legalize the sale of alcohol in grocery stores and convenience stores, was passed. The Oklahoma State Election Board announced that it passed with 939,848 votes and won 65 to 32 percent.

With the passage of the law, alcohol consumers will notice several changes beginning Oct. 1, 2018. A larger variety of products, more beverages sold cold and strong beer options are some of the differences resulting from the passage of State Question 792.

NewsOK.com outlines a few of those changes:

  • Liquor stores will be able to sell refrigerated beer and wine. Liquor stores will be able to sell beer greater than 8.99 percent alcohol by volume and wine greater than 15 percent.
  • Grocery stores and gas stations will not be allowed to sell liquor.
  • Grocery stores and gas stations will be able to sell chilled beer stronger than 3.2 percent alcohol by volume. Beer in grocery stores and convenience stores can be up to 8.99 percent alcohol by volume, and wine can be up to 15 percent.
  • Many 3.2 alcohol products eventually will be restocked with the company's standard strength products as they are sold.
  • Wine and spirits stores will be able to sell items other than alcohol, as long as those sales don't exceed 20 percent of monthly sales.

Liquor by the Drink Changes

Since the law passed in Nov. 2016, six previously dry counties have voted to go wet, including Okfuskee, Pushmataha, Jefferson, Latimer, Ellis, and Major. Fourteen other counties were behind in getting their laws changed. Unless the citizenship passed an initiative to allow liquor by the drink, people in the fourteen counties would not be able to buy any beer at local restaurants, bars, bowling alleys or lounges.

The fourteen counties are:

Cimmaron
Beaver
Harper
Alfalfa
Roger Mills
Dewey
Washita
Caddo
Harmon
Cotton
Hughes
Coal
Haskell
Adair

Since liquor laws in Oklahoma are in transition, it is best to inquire about the status when visiting one of these rural and less populated counties. Liquor laws in more populated areas like Oklahoma City have kept up with the changes in law and are pretty much consistent with those in other parts of the United States.