Letter From Argentina: Does the Government Pay Your Nightclub Cover Charge?

(Photo: YoTuT)

A reader named Gustav, a.k.a. the Modern Nomad (a nice blog, by the way) writes to say:

Hi! I’ve just left Buenos Aires after a five-month long nomadic visit there. Reflecting on my time there, I remembered something an Argentine friend told me, and I think you might like the economic spirit behind it.

Gustav is right. I do like the economic spirit behind the story he tells, and I think you will too:

In short, this is a government scheme created to discourage driving under the influence. When you and your friends drive to a disco, you enter the club as normal and pay your entry. But when you leave, the group walks up to the cashier and presents the designated driver, sober and fit for driving. Everyone in the group gets their entry fee back at that point! The club then gets the lost money back from the government who, I presume, find it cheaper to pay the entry fee for clubbers in the company of designated drivers than have them in the hospitals. To me, this is a beautiful economic point of view where the practical reality and cost of things is more important than not to be seen ‘supporting clubbers.’

Gustav writes further that “I’d love to know if this is true, as I heard it from a friend.” Yes, it would be good to know if it were true. And if so, it would also be good to know if it were a) generally effective; and/or b) marked by unintended consequences, and of what nature.

For instance, I could imagine an enterprising person might spend the evening working the nightclub as a professional designated driver. He could cut deals with multiple departing groups, offering to pretend to be their driver in return for a generous cut of their cover-charge refund. He might have to disguise himself a bit to repeatedly slip past the club’s exit personnel, and of course he might have to pay the cover charge himself each time to re-enter. Still, I could see him making the economics work. In which case the group that he pretended to drive home would in fact be driving itself home, quite likely not in a sober condition. In which case the government has subsidized a drunk-driving event rather than stopped one.

Am I being too cynical in immediately thinking of how this smart-seeming government intervention might be gamed to the detriment of the public?

And, more important, can anyone who’s familiar with this Argentine practice fill in some factual details?

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  1. johngalt47 says:

    First thing that occured to me was your scenario. Sounds like a good way to work through college (and meet drunk girls)

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    • Brazzy says:

      First thing that occurred to me: how does the club prove to the government that they’ve actually checked any designated drivers at all, let alone the number of cover charges they want to be reimbursed for?

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  2. Felice Physioc says:

    Hi. I am an American living in Argentina for the past 3 years and I have never, ever heard of this happening. Does your friend have a club name he could give us to back up this story? In Argentina, the amount of car crashes that happen coming out of nightclubs is actually horrendous. So maybe this would be a good idea. However, as I said, I’ve never heard of it actually happening. I also don’t foresee the current administration offering to do something like this.

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  3. Sam says:

    What if people walk to the club? Does this incentivize driving, increasing the likelihood of accidents and pollution?

    And what incentive are at play for the club personel? I imagine a club could gain a competitive advantage over its competitors by being easy on judging whether a person is sober. Also the individual who makes the decision could easily take a bribe of half the club fee to allow a drunk person to pass. A way to combat these is the use of a breathalyzer, but is that cost effective?

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  4. Daniel says:

    Here’s the official link

    It’s in Spanish. I believe the program is still on, but Im not sure if its popular. I’ll do some research.

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  5. juany says:

    Hi, I’m an argetinian citicen and I live in Buenos Aires. I’m 30 and I used to go nightclub. I have never heared about that. I’d be a nice idea.

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  6. Mike says:

    Looks like it’s just Buenos Aires and not all of Argentina. According to the article, the DD has to check into the club when he arrives. He’ll get vouchers for free soda. Upon leaving, he has to pass a breathalyzer to show that he didn’t have anything to drink.

    Checking in up front and then on the way out makes the system tougher to game. Especially when you consider that crowds all leave the club around the same time. The opportunity for repeat business seems pretty low.

    Beside, if the need is great enough, club cover fees might be below market rate for taxi services for 3 drunk friends. DDs should charge more!

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  7. Quinton says:

    Also, the gaming scenario seems relatively easy to stop if there was steep punishment (and maybe some public shaming?). There’s already a lot of transactions costs so if you got caught clearly cheating then (a week in jail/$1000 fine, etc.) would probably be enough to deter. Also, even if there was some cheating, it’s the ratio that matters, if it stops 100 drunk drivers for every cheater, that seems worth it (and still a deal for the government). If it’s 2 or 3 drunks per cheat, then maybe a tougher call (depending on how good they are at cheating)

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  8. Daniel says:

    Just contact Mr. Guillermo Dietrich who’s in charge of the transit policies. So, he said the program is discontinued but being re-launched anytime soon.
    It was very effective, but it’s also part of one big aggresive campaign against drunk driving and. It was implemented in a few top disco sites on the northern part of the city, which has a lot of upperclass young people driving fast cars through almost empy big avenues.

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