Beer-pong players taste victory

The Baltimore Sun

We've all heard about the "special interest" groups representing big oil and tobacco companies. But the beer-pong lobby?

Yesterday, a veteran state senator abandoned his effort to ban drinking games such as beer pong and flip cup in Baltimore bars after facing an impassioned online campaign by leagues of beer-pong players.

Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, contends that the games encourage excessive drinking and lead to raucous behavior in city neighborhoods. A bill he introduced late last month would have outlawed any games that award drinks as prizes in city taverns.

"It's important," Della said Tuesday. "I wouldn't have adopted it if it wasn't an issue for these neighborhoods."

Though it was first played on college campuses, the game is no longer solely played in frat house basements. Beer pong has gone pro. Many city bars have tables set up specifically for beer-pong players, and Las Vegas hosts an annual World Series of Beer Pong.

The game is simple if not hygienic: Two teams try to lob pingpong balls across a table into plastic cups partially filled with beer or water. Traditionally, when a player scores by successfully landing a ball in his opponent's cup, the opponent must drink the cup. "It brings a lot of money to bars and business owners," said Jason Zink, who owns No Idea Tavern in Federal Hill. "It's amazing how popular it is."

Starting Monday, a copy of Della's bill was circulated in e-mails and posted on Web sites of local beer-pong leagues. Fans of drinking games sent a flurry of angry e-mails to the senator, who withdrew the legislation yesterday on the eve of its first hearing in a committee.

"I can't believe you would waste time and resources like this. ... Are you bored this year? I hope your peers laugh at you," one fan wrote to Della on Monday.

And Della listened.

"We're getting inundated with so many e-mails that I don't have the time to fool with it," the senator said. "I just hope that if people continue doing it, they do it in a way that there's not excessive drinking and disrespect for the surrounding neighborhoods."

Beer-pong enthusiasts were overjoyed with Della's decision and were surprised by the outcome.

"We had a campaign going to get everybody to contact the senator, and I was really happy to see all the people that came together," said Jim Reiter, co-founder of MD Beer Pong, which bills itself as the state's largest beer-pong league.

"I was getting a lot of e-mails and calls myself. I'm glad to see that it works. It's kind of cool."

In the past, bars such as the Greene Turtle in Fells Point have held beer pong and flip cup tournaments to raise money for charities. Jill Packo, co-owner of the Greene Turtle, said that in her experience, beer pong doesn't encourage binge drinking.

"It seems ridiculous," she said. "I think there are more things to worry about in the city than that."

Laws prohibiting drinking games are not uncommon. Several states have banned drinking games, though none mentions beer pong by name, according to Matthew Gever, a policy associate for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of the laws were enacted in the 1990s, but some go back even further. South Carolina outlawed drinking games in 1976, he said.

"Beer pong, in general, seems to be getting a lot of bad press in the past couple years," he said.

This has led a number of colleges, such as Georgetown University, the University of Pennsylvania and Tufts University to ban drinking games.

Della said he drafted the ban after hearing complaints from Paul W. Robinson, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association. Yesterday, Robinson said he was amazed at the level of opposition to the bill, but won't stop his fight against drinking games.

"It's a bitter pill for us," Robinson said. "Does this mean I'm going to back off? Does this mean I'm intimidated by beer-pong players or liquor licensees? Absolutely not. You cause problems, you're going to have me to deal with."

Reiter said beer-pong players would continue to fight the misperception that leagues encourage excessive drinking.

"We're going to keep going on with what we're doing," he said. "We understand the importance of being responsible. We've been doing this for a couple of years now. We don't want anybody coming down on us. We don't want to have to stop."

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