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Map showing dry (red), wet (blue), and moist (yellow) counties in the United States
In the United States, a moist county is a county in between a "dry county" (where the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited) and a "wet county" (where alcohol is sold). The term is typically used for any county that allows alcohol to be sold in certain situations, but has limitations on alcohol sales that a normal "wet" county would not have. Some historically "dry" counties are switching to this system to avoid losing money to businesses in other counties, but do not wish to become completely "wet." The term in itself does not have any specific meaning, just that the county is not completely "wet" but is not "dry", either. The terms are applicable in states in which each county makes its own rules on alcohol sales. A "dry" county that contains one or more "wet" cities is typically called "moist".
In Kentucky, the term can be used in two different senses:
Two different statutes allow any dry territory--which can be a dry county or a city located in a dry county--to vote to authorize limited sales of alcoholic beverages by the drink in restaurants. Both statutes require that restaurants make at least 70% of their money from food (rather than alcohol) sales. One statute requires that the restaurant seat at least 100 patrons. The other, signed into law in June 2007, requires only 50 seats, but prohibits licensed establishments from having a dedicated bar and requires that the drinks be sold in association with a meal. Once a jurisdiction votes for such sales, qualifying restaurants can apply for a permit, which are distributed on a somewhat limited basis. For example, the Louisville suburban jurisdiction of Oldham County voted to allow such sales in the early 2000s (its county seat of La Grange later approved full package sales in 2012). Note, however, that Kentucky's Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control does not use the term "moist county" to describe a county in which such sales are allowed, calling it instead a "limited" county.
Officially, a "moist county" is an otherwise dry county in which a city in the county's jurisdiction has voted to allow full retail sales of alcoholic beverages. The following Kentucky counties fall in this category:
Note that once a city votes itself fully wet, state law mandates a 60-day period, starting on the date that the election results are certified, before vendors can apply for licenses to sell distilled spirits and wine. At the end of that period, the state will then advertise in that city's newspaper of record to announce the number of licenses that will be granted. However, beer licenses are not subject to quotas, and can be applied for once the city enacts a governing ordinance.
^According to the referenced story in Ashland's daily newspaper, the original 1981 vote that approved alcohol sales in Ashland only covered four precincts that include the city's downtown. Since then, two of the four precincts have voted themselves dry again.
^This county is also a "limited" county which has voted to allow qualifying restaurants outside of the city of Eminence to sell alcoholic beverages by the drink. Minimum seating capacity is 50.
^This county is also a "limited" county which, before La Grange voted fully wet, voted to allow qualifying restaurants throughout the county to sell alcoholic beverages by the drink. Minimum seating capacity is 100.