Karaoke bar crime trend worries police

Almost all of city’s licensed karaokes breach liquor laws in their first year.

Police are worried about heavy drinking, alcohol-related violence and organised crime in some of Auckland’s growing number of Asian karaoke bars.  Senior Sergeant Ben Offner of the Downtown police station said his staff had found breaches of the liquor laws at most of the city’s 14 licensed karaoke bars in their first year of operation.

Licensing officer Gary Whittle told an alcohol conference this week that some were selling full-sized bottles of spirits to groups of about six to 12 drinkers in the small singing rooms of the bars.  “The introduction of this style of drinking has led to a worrying increase in severe intoxication, grievous assaults and other alcohol-related violence,” he said.

He said the small rooms were also ideal for clandestine meetings of those involved in organised crime and high-level drug dealing.  “Meetings can be held and connections made in a private environment with no questions asked.”

The bars represent a culture which is quite different from the large open rooms typical of European pubs. Jay Kim, manager of the Korean-owned Sky restaurant and karaoke bar in Kitchener St, said Koreans were afraid to talk to strangers at a bar and preferred to socialise in small groups of friends and family.  “For Koreans, the karaoke is like a family entertainment area,” he said.

“In Korea there are two types – those selling liquor for adults only, and singing rooms for the families. We call it singing room here. We have many families that bring their children here.”  Although he also supplies alcohol, he said Koreans always took liquor with food.

“In New Zealand when you go to KFC, do they have beer?” he asked.  “In Korea when you go to a chicken place, we have beer.  “Normally our thought is chicken and beer together.”  He said there were no restrictions on serving alcohol to intoxicated people in Korea, and many of his customers did not understand when he told them that was against the local law.

“They argue with me, so I try to say New Zealand law is different,” he said. “Some customers think I’m lying.”   He said 80 per cent of his customers were students – about 60 per cent “regulars” and the rest “first-timers” including students here for short English language courses.

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