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Saving money on alcohol can be a tricky business. The industry is heavily regulated, and many states restrict how and whether manufacturers and retailers can offer discounts and coupons. So one state with few such restrictions has a message for everyone else – come to New Hampshire to buy your booze, and we’ll give you a coupon to do it!

In New Hampshire, you can buy beer and wine all over, but liquor stores are owned and operated by the state government. So you can’t just drop into your corner market to buy the hard stuff – you have to visit one of 79 state-run stores. The good news is that New Hampshire has no sales tax, and there’s nothing stopping the state Liquor Commission from offering coupons to use in its stores.

So many shoppers don’t mind the inconvenience of having to seek out a state-run store, if it means being able to save a lot of money in the process. And now New Hampshire wants to spread the love to shoppers in other states.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission is offering personalized coupons on its website for out-of-state shoppers, equivalent to double their state’s sales tax rate. So in the three states that border New Hampshire, shoppers in Maine, where the state sales tax is 5.5%, can register to receive a coupon for 11% off their purchase at a New Hampshire-run liquor store. Vermonters can get 12% off, and Massachusetts residents get 13% off.

The discount is capped at 13%, so that’s what residents of all other states – including New Hampshire itself – will receive. So if you’re in California, where the state sales tax is a hefty 7.25%, don’t get your hopes up for a 14.5% coupon if you’re thinking of travelling cross-country to stock up.

The “No Taxation on Our Libations” promotion is meant to attract more out-of-state shoppers to New Hampshire’s liquor stores. “New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlets are always tax-free, and this month we want to reward our customers with something extra,” coupon recipients are told.

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As it stands, more than half of New Hampshire’s liquor sales are made to out-of-state shoppers. And that’s no accident – the gargantuan state-run stores are veritable tourist destinations, often conveniently located along the interstates just across the border from neighboring states.

And not only do other states charge sales tax on alcohol, many of them don’t allow coupons on alcohol purchases. Massachusetts, for one, is in the middle of a fierce debate over whether to allow alcohol coupons. Currently, state law requires sellers “to establish and post a list of prices for all products sold. All sales must be made at those posted prices”. Sellers “cannot sell alcoholic beverages at different prices to different groups of people, namely those who have (a) coupon and those that do not”.

But the retail chain Total Wine & More has been pushing to change that law, so that shoppers in Massachusetts can use coupons in its stores, just as shoppers in other states can. “This is common-sense reform that would have a direct and immediate positive impact on beer, wine and spirits consumers because it will save them real money,” Total Wine spokesman Edward Cooper argued in a letter to Massachusetts’ Alcohol Task Force. “Coupons present an opportunity to draw new customers to specified alcohol retail locations and reduce the cost of alcohol relative to neighboring states like New Hampshire, which does not levy a sales tax.”

So Total Wine’s supporters in Massachusetts are unlikely to be happy about New Hampshire’s new coupon promotion. Maine, meanwhile, is just plain mad.

“It is unfortunate that the state of New Hampshire is attempting to use a gimmick such as this to leverage their state-run monopoly against Maine-based, family-owned agency liquor stores,” Gregg Mineo, director of the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, said in a statement.

And while neighboring states do restrict how much out-of-state alcohol can be transported across state lines, Vermont is resigned to the fact that there’s not a whole lot it can do to fight back against New Hampshire’s cheeky promotion. The state’s Commissioner of Liquor Control Patrick Delaney recently acknowledged that New Hampshire has done “a very good job in strategically positioning itself as the wine and spirits supermarket for the whole northeast region of the United States.”

New Hampshire’s coupons are good from now until Monday, September 3rd, which happens to be Labor Day, the traditional end of the summer vacation season. So if you have plans this month for a summer gathering and find yourself in need of some liquid refreshment, you might want to plan a visit to New Hampshire first. And don’t forget your coupon.

Photo by stevendepolo

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