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Suffolk bill would ban drinking games sales to minors

Joy Griffin, of Islip, says alcohol, drug, and

Joy Griffin, of Islip, says alcohol, drug, and sexually themed items are being sold to minors in the Westfield South Shore Mall. (Feb. 25, 2010) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

The Beer Pong sets and other drinking games sit on a shelf at Gadgets & Gizmos in the South Shore Mall across from a Hannah Montana dress-up kit and next to Wizard of Oz-themed Monopoly.

"It's out in the open," said Suffolk Legis. Tom Cilmi. "If a kid is looking at this stuff, it makes it seem acceptable."

The discovery prodded Cilmi (R-Islip) last week to introduce legislation to ban the sale of drinking games to people younger than 21. Penalties would be $750 for a first offense and $1,500 for subsequent violations.

However, some store owners who sell items like "Drunken Hookup: The Drinking Game that Leads to Sex," say they're doing nothing illegal and counter that the real problem is stores that sell alcohol to children.

"The true issue is making sure that alcohol is not sold to minors, not the fact that someone is selling a cup in which you can drink alcohol," said Kevin Mahoney, general counsel for Spencer Gifts, which has 600 stores nationwide, including five on Long Island.

Cilmi's measure defines a drinking game as any product "marketed as being used for a game in which beer or any other form of alcohol is consumed during the course of play."

One local retailer, Eddie Davis of the four-store Gadgets & Gizmos chain, said he's already removed a display of drug paraphernalia from the South Shore Mall store in Bay Shore at Cilmi's request - and he's moving drinking and sex games to a new adults-only section. But that creates its own problems, he said.

"When the kids see those signs they go right toward it," Davis said.

Neither Nassau County nor New York City restrict sales of such games. Mahoney said he knows of no place in the United States that bans their sale to young people.

Cilmi would bar young people from buying games that essentially are derivatives of college-dorm staples like quarters and flip cup. Many for sale at South Shore Mall are board games with requirements to take drinks or shots based on what's on the card the player turns over.

The "Drunken Hookup" game does carry a disclaimer in small type on the back of its box: "Not to be played with alcohol." And Mahoney said the 16-ounce Beer Pong-branded plastic cups available at Spencer's can be filled just as easily with water.

But Denna Cohen, president of MADD-Long Island, said the only reason to play drinking games is to get drunk.

"Young people are not going to drink Coke or Pepsi while playing these games," she said. "That's why they're called drinking games. They don't call it 'Pepsi Pong.' "

Joy Griffin, 43, of Islip, said that when her two teenagers were younger she had a rule that they were not allowed to go inside Spencer's or Gadgets & Gizmos.

"From when my kids were young until now in their teenage years, you don't feel you can go into those stores without coming into contact with inappropriate paraphernalia," said Griffin, a hairdresser.

Cilmi's bill now heads to the legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, where the chairwoman, Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), predicted it will pass. County Executive Steve Levy is evaluating the bill, a spokesman said.

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