Vermont DTC Shipping Sting Reveals Significant Risks to Residents and Costs to Regulate

Mar 11, 2024

In February, Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery (DLL) released a groundbreaking compliance report shedding light on significant hazards and regulatory shortcomings within direct-to-consumer (DTC) alcohol shipping channels in the Green Mountain state. 


The report, a result of a week-long sting operation conducted by DLL agents and funded with a grant from National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA), detailed alarming findings that stress the urgent necessity for strengthened regulation, rigorous oversight, and a bolstered enforcement budget to supervise existing DTC laws and shield consumers from associated public health and safety risks. 


During the sting, investigators attempted 116 online purchases of beverage alcohol, 40 shipments were delivered. Of those:

  • No purchase was delivered completely lawfully.
  • Age verification was conducted only 20% of the time upon delivery by a common carrier, compared to 85-90% of in-store purchases. 
  • Two deliveries were made to a minor without the common carrier asking for identification.
  • Only 50% of the products delivered were shipped by a winery holding a proper Vermont Direct Shipper license. Of those, 80% failed to submit the required report to the DLL.


The DLL report concluded by emphasizing the significant regulatory challenges posed by DTC shipping, particularly highlighting the hurdles of effective oversight and enforcement: 


“Based on the results of this pilot program, DLL concludes that lawful Direct to Consumer (DTC) shipping in Vermont is significantly underregulated and would take a significant investment to properly regulate and ensure public safety. Alcohol sales via DTC shipping is difficult to regulate. The cost of a comprehensive program would be extremely expensive for any widespread application. The Department does not currently have the resources to regulate the currently licensed activity.”


“These findings underline the fact that allowing DTC shipping is an unfunded mandate and that regulators will continue to struggle to properly regulate and enforce the practice,” said WSWA Vice President of State Affairs Chelsea Crucitti. 


This report echoes the results of a recent Morning Consult survey conducted in collaboration with WSWA, with a staggering 76% of American adults expressing concerns regarding the age verification process when using online vendors or delivery platforms for alcohol purchases – and for good reason. The survey also revealed that one in four adults purchasing alcohol through DTC vendors do not undergo ID checks upon receiving their purchases.


With evidence of alcohol shipments finding their way into the hands of minors, DTC shipping remains a paramount concern for lawmakers and families nationwide who prioritize public health and safety. 


WSWA applauds Vermont for its proactive approach in evaluating lapses in regulation in DTC alcohol sales. This sting could, and should, serve as a model for other states to emulate.