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Illinois OKs happy hours after a 26-year hiatus

It's officially time for happy hour in Illinois.

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday signed a bill into law that, among other things, allows the return of happy hour alcoholic drink specials, with certain restrictions.

Happy hour drink specials had been banned under Illinois law since 1989 but can immediately begin with Rauner's signature of the measure. Advocates of the law celebrated the victory as a measure that would help level the playing field for Illinois and increase tourism to Chicago. Opponents, however, continued to express worries that the return of happy hour would mean excessive drinking and drunken driving.

The bill, SB 398, was passed in the House May 28 and the Senate May 31. Discounts now will be allowed for up to four hours a day and up to 15 hours a week, as long as they are advertised a week in advance and aren't offered after 10 p.m. Volume specials, like two drinks for the price of one, remain prohibited.

There are numerous restrictions. Among them, drinks cannot be given away as prizes. Games can't involve consuming alcohol. A bar cannot offer unlimited drinks for a fixed price, except for private functions such as parties.

"Other places have it and are successful in administering it responsibly," said Jim Ludwig, 65, who has owned Roscoe's in Chicago's Boystown for 28 years. "That's what we're going to try to do." Roscoe's is expected to reopen Saturday after an occupancy violation with the city.

Ludwig said he expected the new law to increase the bar's sales at certain times and open the door for new marketing opportunities, like drink specials packaged with the popular live performances of cast members from RuPaul's Drag Race, which tend to be "huge, crazy nights" at Roscoe's.

The new law also allows establishments to offer meal packages listing food and alcoholic beverage pairings together for a fixed price. And hotels can now hold a single state liquor license for multiple bars and restaurants operating under the same roof.

Violating the law could lead to a fine or a license being suspended or revoked, according to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.

Also Wednesday, Rauner approved bans on two powdered substances. One makes it a misdemeanor to sell powdered alcohol, and another makes it a misdemeanor to sell powdered caffeine to a minor.

There has been vocal support for the happy hour legislation from groups like the Illinois Restaurant Association, which has said the law will help attract patrons to Illinois restaurants and bars.

Still, some business owners opposed it. They say the change could lead people to drink more in a shorter period and may lead to more alcohol-related crashes and fatalities.

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