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Serving intoxicated patrons

It is an offence for a licensee or permittee to supply liquor to a person in a state of intoxication.

When is a person in a state of intoxication?

A definition of intoxication is provided in the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 (the Act). Section 3AB (1) states:

For the purposes of this Act, a person is in a state of intoxication if his or her speech, balance, coordination or behaviour is noticeably affected and there are reasonable grounds for believing that this is the result of the consumption of liquor.

Intoxication Guidelines

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) issues Intoxication Guidelines to assist licensees and venue staff in determining whether a person is in a state of intoxication.

Not all people will be affected by alcohol in the same way . Different amounts of alcohol can have a different affect depending on the person. Several factors, such as the amount of alcohol consumed, general state of health, gender, body weight, medications and food intake, affect the rate at which a person becomes intoxicated. When a person is affected by alcohol, one of the first effects of alcohol is the loss of judgement and inhibitions. Some of the signs of intoxication are listed in the Intoxication Guidelines.

You only need to believe, on reasonable grounds, that a person is intoxicated

Remember, there is no requirement for a person to actually be intoxicated. The  law only requires that there be ‘reasonable grounds’ for the belief that the person is intoxicated as a result of alcohol consumption. It is all right if you refuse service to a person on the basis of this belief, even if you are wrong.

Reasonable grounds for belief

Reasonable grounds for belief is what a reasonable person would believe in the given situation, taking into account the relevant knowledge, facts you have and the circumstances you are in. A belief can be formed on the basis of observing the physical signs and symptoms, talking to the person and their friends, and then considering whether such symptoms could be the result of alcohol consumption or another condition.

Some of the signs of intoxication, which may give rise to reasonable belief, are outlined in the Intoxication Guidelines.

Observing these signs, either independently, or through interaction with the person and their friends, will help you determine whether someone is intoxicated and their level of intoxication.

Conditions that exhibit similar symptoms and signs to intoxication

In Victoria, it is unlawful to treat someone unfairly or discriminate against them on grounds of their actual or assumed disability. You need to be aware that certain types of disabilities can create the impression that a person is intoxicated. Dealing with disabilities requires care, sensitivity and tact.

Prior to refusing service on the basis that a person is intoxicated, you should consider whether a medical condition or disability could cause symptoms similar to intoxication. For example, possible illness, injury or medical conditions such as brain trauma, hypoglycaemia or pneumonia.

Sometimes physical and mental disabilities can present signs that are similar to the signs of alcohol intoxication. An example of such a disability is Acquired Brain Injury. This, among other things, can affect the ability to walk, slur and slow speech and affect motor responses, all of which can appear to be signs of intoxication.

It is important that you consider the possibility of the existence of any of these conditions prior to refusing service on the basis that a person is intoxicated. If the person has a medical condition or disability, the person or their friends may be able to tell you. Be sensitive to a person’s right to privacy.


If a licensee supplies liquor to a person in a state of intoxication, they may be issued with an on the spot fine through an infringement notice. Fines can be in excess of $17,000. Your licence may also incur demerit points.

It is also an offence for other persons to obtain alcohol, or aid and abet an intoxicated person, with a maximum fine exceeding $2,000.

Additional penalties for gaming venues

Licensed premises that offer gaming in their venue are subject to further penalties as stated in the Gambling Regulation Act 2003. 

  • A venue operator must not knowingly allow a person who is intoxicated to play a gaming machine
  • The holder of a wagering licence or the wagering operator must not knowingly accept a bet from a person who is in a state of intoxication
  • The casino operator must not knowingly allow a person who is intoxicated to gamble or bet in the casino.

 These offences attract a maximum fine of 40 penalty units.

How to help prevent intoxication

It is your responsibility to prevent patrons from becoming intoxicated. There are things you can do to slow the intoxication process down.

How to slow the intoxication process down
  • Actively promote low alcoholic drinks, nonalcoholic drinks and food accompaniments.
  • Wait for the patron to re-order, don’t automatically fill up drinks.
  • Slow service down – keep yourself busy attending to other patrons or cleaning.
  • Talk to the patrons, gauge the level of intoxication.
  • Alert other staff to a patron showing signs of intoxication.
  • Serve water with drinks and keep water available for people
  • Point to the relevant sign outlining your responsibilities.

What to do if someone is intoxicated

It is against the law to serve alcohol to a person who is intoxicated. If you have reasonable grounds for the belief that someone is intoxicated, you must refuse service to that person.

How to refuse service
  • Use tact - politely inform the person you will not serve them any more alcohol. Don’t speak to the person in front of others.
  • Repeat firmly, that by law, they cannot be served another drink. Management policy may be to offer a non-alcoholic drink or to suggest ordering food.
  • Notify other bar staff that you have refused service to the person.
  • Notify the manager, licensee, supervisor or security.
  •  If considered necessary, management may impose a short term ban.

You should be sure of your reasons for refusal of service and these reasons should not be discriminatory on the basis of race, sex or disability. A person has the right to take the matter to the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission if they feel they have been subjected to discrimination..

Other information

If you would like a copy of this publication in a more accessible format, please email the VCGLR at or telephone 1300 182 457.



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