Virginia is cashing in a $1 billion bet on its 85-year-old state liquor monopoly.
The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Authority, conceived four years ago as a way to make an old government bureaucracy run like a modern business, surpassed $1 billion in retail sales in the year that ended June 30 and generated almost a half-billion dollars for the state budget.
“Customers aren’t necessarily drinking more,” Travis Hill, chief executive officer of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, said in an announcement of the financial results on Tuesday. “They’re buying more premium products that have a higher per bottle price tag. Additionally, they’re choosing distilled spirits over other products.”
The top brand, by the way, is Tito’s Handmade vodka, which grew from $33.5 million to $42.1 million in sales.
The billion-dollar milestone was the target for then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who had ordered a fresh look at the old Virginia ABC Department after his predecessor, Gov. Bob McDonnell, failed in 2011 to privatize the liquor monopoly the state has held since the end of Prohibition in 1934.
With the same aim, the 2015 General Assembly adopted legislation to turn the venerable state agency into a semi-independent authority, governed like a corporation with a CEO and a part-time board of directors, and allow it to keep some of the money it generates each year for the state to modernize its outdated operations.
“My ask to the General Assembly in 2015 was reinvestment in the business they decided to keep ownership of, and they’ve done that,” said Hill, 41, who became chief operating officer under the old ABC structure in October, 2014, and the first CEO of the authority officially established last year.
“These are all things that are absolutely essential to a retail organization,” said Hill, citing new systems for financial management, licensing, online sales and retail transactions at about 400 ABC stores across the state.