State OKs beer pong at bars

Sharna Johnson

Beer pong tables can go back up in New Mexico bars, state officials said, so long as pride’s the only thing on the line.

New Mexico Alcohol and Gaming Director Gary Tomada said Monday his department has reviewed the game to see where it fits in with establishments licensed to serve alcohol.

“It’s against the law for (liquor) licensees to allow games or contests that involve drinking alcohol beverages or award alcohol beverages as prizes,” Tomada said, “and we can’t have any semblance of gambling. If those (rules) are observed … they can play all they want.”

Organized beer pong tournaments at Kelley’s Bar & Grill in Clovis were halted Thursday when the state’s Special Investigations Division sought a review of the game.

Clovis promoter Elliott Fite said in light of the state’s position, Thursday night games will resume at Kelley’s Bar & Grill.

However, he is not convinced the ruling is sound, and noted that his group consulted an attorney when they created the tournaments.

“I don’t understand,” Fite said Monday. “It almost makes me question if (Tomada) was misinterpreting how we were running the event.”

A staff member who answered the phone Monday afternoon at Kelley’s said the staff was not yet aware of any ruling, and the business was still operating under the premise that tournaments are on hold.

In the near future, Tomada said his department plans to publish guidelines specific to beer pong for licensees, but was not clear on whether it was being defined as a game of chance or skill.

Fite thinks the latter, explaining that beer pong requires skill, hand-eye coordination, motor skills and practice. He likened the game to darts or golf, games that are often played as part of sanctioned tournaments with cash prizes.

Prior to last week, the tournaments at Kelley’s featured a $10 entry fee for a two-person team, with prize money drawn from entry fees divided between the top two finishers in a double-elimination bracket.

Fite said at the tournaments, game cups are filled with water and alcohol is never given as a prize — and money is handled by tournament organizers, with no player-to-player money exchanges.

“I don’t really blame anybody (for the confusion),” Fite said, “just due to the fact that the game is still in its infancy.”

Fite said his group started informally about three years ago but, because of growing interest, started hosting organized tournaments and networked as a league with other players nationwide.

For about a year, the tournaments have been held at Kelley’s and, Fite said, about a dozen of the more serious players have played at tournaments in Las Vegas, Nev.