By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business
This is the fifth article in a six-part series on the particulars of club hospitality management.
(Note: For the purpose of this series, the word “club” should also be interpreted to include both “nightclubs” and “day clubs” (venues typically in and around a pool area and often referred to as “beach clubs”), both of which typically entail many of the same management particulars. Where differences exist, they will be distinguished for the reader.)
In the previous parts of the series, we discussed liabilities for club operations resulting from issues like underage drinking, illegal substances and weapons possession. In addition to legal liability concerns, these challenges present business complications, too.
For example, if guests who have paid to get in are subsequently found to be either underage or in possession of illegal substances or weapons, should they receive a refund?
For many clubs, their answer to this question generally is no. The reasoning is that a guest who knowingly (having been on notice of club policies by way of the signage, which usually includes a “no refunds” warning) violates a law and/or establishment rule forfeits his access privileges and the money he paid for access.
This type of procedure is a double-edged sword, though. Denying guests entry and denying them a refund smacks of injustice, as it could be argued that the club has been unjustly enriched. However, clubs typically boost their “nice guys” stance by explaining to ejected or trespassed guests that they were not in fact as harsh in their actions as they could have been.
Clubs Are Within Their Rights to Call Police When Necessary
Clubs would ordinarily be within their rights to call police on any individual who commits a crime on their property, even a non-felonious crime such as ID fraud for admission or illegal substance possession in consumption quantities. However, club officials usually explain to ejected guests that they are willing (oh, so generously) to forego these legal remedies if the offending guest leaves without putting up an argument.
Similar arguments arise concerning drugs and fake IDs. Such contraband is usually confiscated by club officials who discover them so the offender cannot attempt to use them again elsewhere (or at the same club on another night). Offenders are usually understandably upset for obvious reasons about having their items confiscated. They sometimes view it as theft of their personal property by the club.
But the club’s reply is usually very persuasive: “Your item was used or possessed illegally. If you feel that we’ve unjustly taken it from you, call the police. Then when they arrive, we’ll explain to them the circumstances under which it came into our possession. They can decide what happens next.”
By the time these conversations are finished, more often than not ejected guests are happy to leave the matter as is and walk away, grateful for not having been arrested but nonetheless out their admission fee and their drugs or fake IDs.
Clubs Have the Option of Conducting ID and Bag Checks Before Admission
The argument could be made that clubs could avoid confrontations about refunds by simply conducting ID and bag checks prior to requiring admission fees. However, individuals caught in violation would then have paid nothing before being asked to leave. In essence, the club would be providing “free” bag and ID check services for a lot of folks who ultimately will never be spending any money with them. So the arguments about refunds and confiscated property are justified by the admission revenues that are almost invariably retained by the club.
How Should Clubs Deal with Patrons Who Must Be Arrested?
A final concern relating to liability is the handling of individuals who are actually arrested. Asking someone to leave is one thing, but placing a person in handcuffs is quite another. In most jurisdictions, private citizens possess limited “citizen’s arrest” powers, the purpose of which is to detain a known or suspected criminal until law enforcement can respond and take custody.
Clubs would much prefer to never arrest anyone, but the reality of the business is that sometimes such actions are necessary and unavoidable. Some detainees comply with arrest peacefully. Many more do not.
As such, it is necessary that security personnel have the proper equipment and training in how to use that equipment safely. Club security training typically involves courses in verbal manipulation — that is, how to persuade compliance with words; physical self-defense and submission or hand-to-hand tactics; and the use of handcuffs.
The last two tactics obviously entail physical contact with guests for the purpose of restricting their freedom of movement. This is obviously a serious deprivation of civil rights, which must never be done without proper cause. Therefore, training for nightclub security officers usually also includes a crash course in the laws relevant to such procedures, including when and how they should be applied.
Specific issues within the purview of citizen’s arrests include the appropriate degree of force used, the length of detention, the circumstances of detention (e.g. was restroom access permitted?), notification of law enforcement, release and/or handover to law enforcement, and other concerns. These matters are further complicated by the fact that many guests in clubs are simply too intoxicated to understand or appreciate the situations in which they find themselves.
Additionally, world-famous tourism hotspots such as Las Vegas attract many foreign visitors who are completely unfamiliar with U.S. laws and customs. Picture, for example, trying to explain to someone from another country who does not speak English and may or may not be inebriated that he is being placed under arrest. Imagine how they might react to being handcuffed.
In the last part of this series, we’ll look at some remaining ancillary issues in the domain of club hospitality operations.