The End of the Great Kiosk Debacle

The LCB’s grocery-store wine dispensaries are really dead this time

If Pennsylvanians need any more proof it’s time to dismantle the state store system of wine and liquor distribution, that system’s biggest proponent kindly provided it yesterday. Even as he announced that the Liquor Control Board was abandoning its idiotically ill-conceived grocery-store kiosks, board CEO Joe Conti defended the white elephants to the death. What did he think of the kiosk experiment?

“It certainly wasn’t a failure,” he said.

Um … the facts that the machines never worked properly and that their manufacturer is suing the LCB for $81 million in damages might seem to argue otherwise?

“It didn’t end up successful,” Joe argued, “but we learned a lot.”

Oh. Gee.

The dispute between the LCB and that manufacturer, Simple Brands, is now headed to the state’s Board of Claims. That doesn’t bother Joe Conti. In fact, he told the Inquirer that one LCB case heard there took 18 years to resolve. “This won’t be quick,” Conti promised. What, him hurry? Why should he? His starting salary back in 2006 was 150 grand. In contrast, the kiosks’ death was downright hasty, with mere months between their rollout in the summer of 2010 and yesterday’s obituary.

A few weeks back, Pennsylvania’s auditor general announced that the kiosks brought in $206,060 in income, balanced against operating costs (not counting those for, say, 18 years of legal wrangling still to come) of $1,131,375. Here, I’ll do the math: Conti’s kiosks have cost the state—meaning you and me—$1.12 million more than they brought in. The AG’s report also concluded that the LCB negotiated a contract with Simple Brands that was “more advantageous to the vendor than necessary,” “overstated the convenience of the kiosks” and “lost credibility when they malfunctioned.” But they’re not a failure, Joe Conti. Oh no. Just like you’re not a failure—though in any intelligently run private enterprise, you’d be kicked to the curb for this debacle.

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