Skip to main content
Government & Politics

Bill in Annapolis would allow Trone to expand alcohol empire in Maryland

Rep. David Trone (D-6th). Photo by William J. Ford.

A frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate is eyeing a change in state liquor laws that would allow his business a dramatic expansion in Maryland.

Total Wine & More, a Maryland-based national chain owned by U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th) and his brother, is backing a bill that would expand the number of retail alcohol licenses that can be held by a single person. Current law allows for just one. House Bill 1424, sponsored by Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Montgomery), would increase the number of licenses to four.

“This would put Maryland in line with surrounding jurisdictions as well as states up and down the East Coast,” said Ashlie Bagwell, a lobbyist who represents Total Wine & More.

Virginia currently allows unlimited licenses for beer and wine retailers. Washington, D.C., allows for unlimited licenses. Delaware allows two licenses per license holder but is considering expanding to three licenses, according to Bagwell.

Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Montgomery). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Fraser-Hidalgo told the House Economic Matters Committee Monday that his bill merely expands the number of licenses for some retailers. The delegate testified on his own bill for less than 30 seconds.

The bill proposes to increase the number of Class A liquor licenses a person can hold to four statewide but no more than one in any of the 23 counties and Baltimore. Class A liquor licenses allow alcohol to be sold for off-premises use.

The bill also limits any business that does not derive 85% of its revenue from alcohol sales to just one license. Grocery stores generally are prohibited from selling alcohol in Maryland under a 1978 law. Any that were grandfathered in after the law changed 46 years ago would be blocked from obtaining the three additional licenses in Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill.

“Every attempt has been made to narrowly tailor this bill to apply only to off-premise alcohol retailers,” Bagwell said.

Opponents of the measure, including the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, see the bill as dangerous to small stores around the state.

“At that point, as we all know, when there’s no competition, we know what happens to prices,” said Bill Coleman, who has managed Rips Wine and Spirits in Bowie for the last 30 years.

The bill marks the first time in seven years that a Maryland lawmaker has attempted to increase the number of liquor licenses, to the benefit of Trone’s company.

In 2016, the legislature rejected House Bill 1366, sponsored by then-Del. Charles Barkley (D-Montgomery), who at the time was chair of the Economic Matters Alcoholic Beverages Subcommittee, proposed expanding the number of licenses from one to two.

Trone is considered one of the wealthiest members of Congress, with a family net worth valued at an estimated $2.4 billion, according to

It is a resource he has deployed in his campaign to succeed U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D), who is retiring rather than seeking a fourth term in office.

In the final quarter of 2023, Trone spent $13.7 million on the Senate race. That amount included $13.5 million of his own money.

Trone and his brother Robert are owners of Total Wine & More, a chain of more than 260 stores across 28 states. The congressman relinquished day-to-day control of the company after his election in 2018.

Two of those stores are in Maryland — one in Laurel and the other in Towson.

David Trone and Robert Trone skirt the limit of one license per person or entity by each owning a single license.

David Trone holds the license for the Laurel location. Robert Trone holds the license for the Towson location. The two stores are supposed to be operated separately from each other and the national company, which is based in Montgomery County.

Both Maryland stores are listed on the company’s website.

If Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill were to pass, each brother would be eligible to own up to four licenses in Maryland.

The total number of licenses proposed per owner is not as arbitrary as it may seem. It is identical to the number of cannabis dispensary licenses that can be held by a single owner in the state.

Steve Wise, a lobbyist for the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, said expanding to four licenses is “significant because it substantially changes the buying power of the person that would control those four licenses and Total Wine, which is asking you for this bill.”

Total Wine executives have been willing to go to court and to legislatures around the country pressing to expand the business.

Two years ago, David and Robert Trone spent millions supporting a 2022 Colorado ballot initiative that would have allowed them to open an unlimited number of stores in that state. The effort was defeated by a 2-1 margin.

The company once sued in Maryland seeking to overturn quantity discount laws.

“They’re very good, very good, very smart business. And this is not the only step they’ve taken in this regard,” Wise said.

Passage of HB 1424 would give Total Wine an advantage over smaller businesses.

The measure would give Total Wine and More “the buying power of four stores, which would be able to access those volume discounts at a much higher and greater level, which would be damaging to the smaller independent retailer,” Wise said.

This story has been updated to show that David Trone relinquished day-to-day control of the company after his election to Congress in 2018.

Disclosure: The David and June Trone Family Foundation was a financial supporter of Maryland Matters in 2017 and 2018.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our website. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

If you have any questions, please email [email protected].

To republish, copy the following text and paste it into your HTML editor.


Creative Commons License AttributionCreative Commons Attribution
Bill in Annapolis would allow Trone to expand alcohol empire in Maryland