Two karaoke bars face legal action for serving drunk patrons and another lost its licence for six weeks after staff carried two women - one unconscious - into a back room to try to avoid police.
Police and council officials say drunk revellers are turning to karaoke lounges to continue boozing after they are turned away from bars in central Auckland for being too intoxicated.
Their concerns come after Herald revelations last month of the level of drunkenness and violence in Queen St and the city centre on weekend nights.
The Herald understands two downtown karaoke bars face legal proceedings after a sting by police and Auckland Council found they failed to monitor intoxication levels of customers.
They could have their liquor licences suspended and, in extreme cases, lose them altogether.
Police would not name the bars, but another karaoke bar, Party World in Newton, has been sanctioned after staff were caught hiding two "grossly intoxicated" women in a back room during the Rugby World Cup.
A Liquor Licensing Authority decision tells how a police sergeant saw a woman being carried into the back room as he approached the front entrance of the venue at 1.15am on October 14.
"She appeared to be unconscious," the authority decision says. "Accompanied by the duty manager, he [the officer] entered the back room where he located two heavily intoxicated women."
Both women were too drunk to answer questions, the authority said.
"The young women were carried into the back empty room because bar staff saw the police arriving and panicked."
The authority said the actions were "reprehensible".
"The effect of what was done was to place the young women at even greater risk of danger."
It was the third time the licensee had been subject to enforcement action, and the case followed a similar one in 2009 "where there was an attempt by management to remove the intoxicated patrons from the premises when the police arrived".
But the authority said there were three mitigating factors in the latest case - the duty manager had been dismissed, the owner had a history of co-operating with the police and "apparently the police consider this karaoke bar to be one of the better ones in Auckland".
The bar's licence was suspended for 42 days.
A regular drinker said private rooms at Asian-operated karaoke bars were becoming the preferred choice for those too drunk to go anywhere else.
"Usually, the staff at these joints will just carry on serving drinks without question, and we have the privacy of our own individual room to carry on drinking and do practically anything we want," he said.
"It's also a safe place where we can recover and use as a waiting place to get picked up."
Auckland Council licensing manager James Jefferson said the joint operation with the police was to ensure karaoke bars were "taking their statutory responsibility seriously".
"There is no excuse for duty managers failing to closely monitor intoxication levels within their premises," he said.
"As a minimum, we would expect regular physical checks to be made throughout an evening and intoxication levels to be assessed before further sales took place."
Mr Jefferson said that over the past 18 months, most intoxication occurred because of "pre-loading", in which people drank heavily before coming into the city to go to pubs or clubs.
During last year's Rugby World Cup, seven licensed premises were found to have breached liquor laws but only two cases were serious enough to require formal enforcement proceedings.
"Most bar staff are doing a good job in refusing admission to people who are already intoxicated," Mr Jefferson said. "But some operators will go to great lengths to avoid being detected."
Police Commissioner Peter Marshall patrolled inner Auckland last weekend after complaints from residents on and near Queen St of fighting and drunken behaviour by revellers in the early hours.
In a bid to reduce drunken disorder in the area, police and the Auckland Council have created a local alcohol policy to be introduced after the Alcohol Reform Bill is passed this year.
The changes include tightening alcohol laws and reducing the availability of booze. They will also give local communities a greater say in licensing decisions, such as the siting of liquor stores and opening hours.
Another possible change would ban entry to licensed premises after a specified time to prevent people bar-hopping in the early hours.