Record ‘pay-to-play’ fine on beer distributor upheld by Mass. judge


By Dan Adams

A Massachusetts judge on Monday upheld the state’s ban on so-called pay-to-play payments in the beer industry, rejecting the arguments of a craft beer distributor that had challenged the rule after getting slapped with a record fine for compensating bars to put its products on tap.

The decision is a major boost to the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, or ABCC, which has had a mixed record in its three-year crackdown on illegal anti-competitive practices that pervade the state’s alcohol industry.

It is also a setback for Anheuser-Busch; the beer conglomerate was not involved in the case but is facing similar charges for allegedly giving away nearly $1 million in refrigeration equipment to package stores and bars to push sales of Budweiser and other drinks while stifling those of other brewers. With the ruling, a number of potential legal avenues for escaping those charges have been closed off.

The case decided on Monday revolved around Everett-based distributor Craft Brewers Guild. In 2015, state investigators acting on a tip found that it had paid at least $120,000 over two years to bars that put its brews on tap and froze out those sold by competing distributors. Invoices showed the distributor had disguised the payments using code phrases such as “menu programming” for fictitious services.

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