Starting at Bars, New Free Alcohol Policy May Spread Far

By Ben Hamill - July 06 2017

It seems that the era of free drinks at Las Vegas and other casinos may be coming to an end. Several casinos have introduced a system, first being put in place at bars that offer video poker, that allows the bartenders to serve free alcoholic drinks only if the gambling patron keeps up a minimum of $4 wagered per minute.

Drink Away Whilst Gambling on the Floor

No casinos as yet have announced that the system will make its way to the casino floor where free alcohol has long been a mainstay of a trip to a casino, but some gamblers and industry observers feel that, if this first experiment in monitoring alcohol proves to have major cost-saving benefit, it will be brought forthwith to the casino floor as well.

Computerized Alcohol

The system was developed by Ardent Progressive Systems and Games. It uses modern computer tech to constantly follow a drinker's betting so bartenders give free drinks only to gamblers and not to bar patrons who take advantage of the bartenders' very busy job to drink and leave without paying. Ironically, the drinks served at these "gambling bars" were never intended to be free but many drinkers found it easy to drink and leave because the bartenders' attention was always elsewhere: putting together drinks, taking payments for the drinks, and making small talk with customers. Small talk has long been seen as a way to get customers in a gambling mood so bartenders placed a great deal of emphasis there and far less on monitoring other customers' actual gambling.

Pity the Poor Bartender

Bartenders found it difficult to keep track of gamblers' betting in order to issue vouchers for free drinks. This practice has long been called "comping" players' drinks as a reward for gambling.

Leading at Several Locations

Caesars Entertainment is leading the way with the system in place in Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Reno, and Laughlin. The system has also been installed at the Hard Rock Casino in Lake Tahoe, the Westgate, the Palazzo, and the Venetian and three other famed Las Vegas casinos are set to introduce the system soon: Treasure Island, Hard Rock, and the Golden Nugget.

Green Means Go; Red Means Stop

The system installed at Caesars tracks betting. When a gambler earns a free drink, green light flashes. If the gambler fails to maintain the $4 per minute minimum, the light turns red. Thus the bartenders know immediately which gamblers deserve a free drink and which are gamblers in name only. MGM Entertainment has a similar system in place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. A spokesperson for MGM said that the system might also be put in place in New Jersey and Mississippi. Two states, Michigan and Maryland, make it illegal for casinos to offer free alcohol to gamblers. A simple calculation reveals that if the maximum bet per hand at a video poker machine is $1.25, it will take fourbetsper minute to earn that desirable free drink. To maintain that pace requires constant gambling. Fortunately, video poker has a very high payback rate so gamblers can maintain the $4 minimum per minute and still retain a strong bankroll.