Some casinos in Las Vegas are enacting policies that measure how much you are gambling before you “earn” a free drink. This has lead people to wonder if free drinks in Las Vegas are coming to an end.
When you go to a bar in some casinos, the video poker machine will automatically “reward” you with a free drink. As you play, you’ll earn more free drinks.
In this article, Ed from Pizza in Motion states:
I can’t tell whether I’m surprised by this or not. On one hand, these are public companies. Too many free drinks means less money in the pockets of shareholders. On the other hand, Vegas casinos have been using alcohol to pry money out of patron’s hands for decades.
Other bloggers have made similar comments.
I think this represents a misunderstanding at to how free drinks work in Las Vegas. And no–I don’t think free drinks are on their way out.
How things work in practice
When someone goes to a video poker machine, their main intention is to gamble. They may also drink while gambling.
When someone goes to a bar in a casino, their main intention is to drink. They may also gamble while drinking.
This is an important distinction. In the first case, the alcohol is to encourage the person to continue gambling (and to up their bet while doing it). In the second case, the presence of the video poker is to try to earn even more money off you while you drink.
With the second case, casinos would miss out on a lot of money if the drinks were open bar while playing video poker. After all, the person came to the bar with the intention of drinking already. And the policy has never been open bar.
It’s been unclear though.
The new policy
This new policy finally gives transparency into what it takes to earn a drink at a casino bar.
Generally, the free drinks are given at the bartender’s discretion based on how much gambling he thinks is happening. He might comp every other drink, or even refuse to comp a drink if it seems as if the betting is too low.
I, unfortunately, was at a casino with a friend who got belligerent when he realized he had to pay his entire bar tab, even though he was throwing nickles into the video poker machine the entire time.
There hasn’t been a clear statement on what gets you a free drink until now. With the casinos that enacted this policy, you’ll know when you’ve earned a free drink. It’ll be printed out for you.
Another way to think about it
Think of it this way. I’ve noticed people tend to drink faster at a bar than at a table at restaurants I’ve worked at. That’s anecdotal. But in addition to that, you get served faster at a bar than you do at a table.
The same is true at casinos. If you are sitting at the casino bar and your drink goes empty, you can get another drink right away.
If you are at a machine and your drink is empty, you are hoping the cocktail waitress is swinging around soon and is in ordering mode vs. dropping off mode. (Life hack: tipping very well does help speed this up).
The “rounds” of the cocktail waitress is what paces your drinking at the machines/tables, making it less likely you’ll be more expensive than what they earn off you. (I can really stretch a $20 in penny poker, so YMMV).
Think of this voucher system as another way of pacing your drinking. Otherwise, the bar would become a free-for-all, and you’d see life hack articles on the best place to get free drinks in Vegas featuring these casino bars.
No, this does not mean free drinks are going away. All this does is add transparency to a policy already in place. Bartenders won’t have to be the drink police anymore. This will also lead to happier customers since it won’t seem like their bar bill is being discounted (or not discounted) in arbitrary ways.