The answer the question posed in the above headline is not a curse of unquenchable thirst, nor a town-wide penchant for beer baths. Instead, it’s what some critics call America’s largest booze racket that exists between a town in Nebraska and its neighbors at a Native American reservation across the border in South Dakota.
The town of Whiteclay, Neb. sells more beer per capita than any other town in America, reports Mother Jones, which is quite an impressive feat, considering there are only about a dozen permanent residents. The four liquor stores in the town sold 4.6 million cans of beer in 2009, about 1,009 cans per resident per day.
Most of that beer isn’t draining into the bottomless stomachs of those residents — it’s being sold to people living across the border two miles on the Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge reservation. Citizens there live under an alcohol prohibition — no selling or possessing booze for over a hundred years.
That could all change, as residents of the reservation will hold a referendum to stop the Nebraska town’s racket, and allow beer to flow freely there. Hard liquor would still be taboo, but the tribe would be in charge of beer sales and use the profits to invest in things like alcoholism treatment centers.
The thought here being that while booze is available in Nebraska, that town gets rich off the reservation while nothing is in place to help curb addiction, a major problem for the tribe. Or, as critics of the plan note, it could make things worse, and in effect there would be “a Whiteclay in every district in this reservation.”