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ND leads US in ratio of bars to residents

FARGO - North Dakotans' boozy ways are fueled by the most bars per capita in the United States.

There's one bar for every 1,620 North Dakotans, according to the Forum newspaper's analysis of U.S. Census Bureau business patterns data from 2011, the most recent year for which information is available.

That narrowly beats out neighboring Montana and puts North Dakota well above Minnesota, which ranks 17th.

North Dakota also has the sixth-most liquor stores per capita in the country: one per 1,937 residents.

After considering statistics on binge drinking and drunken driving, Pam Sagness said North Dakota's spot on that list was no surprise. Sagness, prevention administrator for the Mental Health and Substance Abuse division of the state Department of Human Services, said easy access is one of the driving factors behind North Dakota's track record of problems with alcohol abuse.

A pair of 2010 studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that North Dakotans binge drink more often -- and in greater quantities -- than almost all Americans.

Perhaps more alarming, Sagness said, is that North Dakotans don't see much harm in binge drinking. She guessed that the North Dakotan attitude of "work hard, play hard" steadily drove up the ratio of bars to residents.

"It didn't get to be this way overnight," Sagness said.

Laura Mio grew up in the Midwest, so she wasn't surprised to hear that North Dakota ranks first in bars per capita in the U.S.

"The joke was, you have to have as many bars as churches -- if not more," said Mio, now general manager at JL Beers in downtown Fargo.

The Fargo-based beer-and-burger chain has two other locations in the metro area plus branches in Grand Forks, Sioux Falls, S.D., and, most recently, Bismarck. She looks at that as a sign that there's plenty of support and demand for beer in the region.

"That's good for us," she said. "We got in at a good time."

The Fargo-Moorhead metro area stands out across the country for alcohol hotspots. With one bar or liquor store for every 2,060 people, Fargo-Moorhead ranks 19th among metropolitan areas with populations of more than 100,000.

Sagness said part of the access problem in North Dakota is that there is no statewide agency regulating alcohol -- it's left up to local governments to dole out liquor licenses.

Janet Seaworth, executive director of the North Dakota Beer Wholesalers Association, said she thinks the state's approach to regulating alcohol has proven effective. She was surprised to find out North Dakota has the most bars per capita in the U.S., and among the most liquor stores per capita too.

"That ranking doesn't mean much to me as long as the industry is well regulated, and it is well regulated," she said.