Are Free Drinks Coming To An End at Casinos In Las Vegas?

a row of slot machines in a casino

Free drinks are just about as common in Vegas as neon.  Walk into any casino and sit down at any table game or slot machine, you’re bound to be offered a free drink.  Nobody asks how much you’re betting (or, if you’re even playing that slot machine you’re sitting at).  For my adult life, the alcohol has always flown pretty freely in Las Vegas.

Joe Cortez at The Points Guy summarizes a recent article that talks about Las Vegas casinos testing new policies that limit free drinks:

At MGM Grand and Mirage, operated by MGM Resorts International, a similar policy has taken effect. At two different bars in both properties, gamblers are given one complimentary drink when they sit at the bar and begin playing. As they gamble, the machine automatically prints out free drink vouchers, which can be redeemed instantly. According to a statement from MGM Resorts, the new system allows bartenders to determine when a player qualifies for a free drink, instead of making judgement calls based on how long they have been there. Once again, the actual amount of game play required per free drink was not disclosed.

The LA Times article goes into a bit more detail on what Caesars is testing:

For now, the play-to-drink practice applies only to video poker fans at certain bars.

Caesars has installed indicator lights on the rear of video poker machines at sports bars in all nine of its properties on or near the Strip. Guests have to wager a certain amount on each hand for the “green” light to flash. Only then will bartenders serve free booze. Lower bidders have to pay if they want a splash of wine or a cocktail.

A Caesars statement describes the new policy as a “comp validation system.” The company says it enables it “to offer complimentary beverages to those gamers who choose max play at our video poker bar top units.”

The Final Two Pennies

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.

I don’t drink heavily and gamble rarely when in Vegas.  But, I’ve got to think folks are more likely to “get a bit crazy” with their bets if they have a few drinks in them.  That’s got to be good for the house.  Vegas casinos track everything.  They must have some pretty compelling data to be testing changes like this.

Vegas resorts casinos have steadily increased the amount of revenue they receive from dining and shows over the years, becoming less reliant on gambling revenue.  But, it’s still a large part of what they do.  Taking away free parking is one thing (something MGM Resorts did last year).  Reducing free drinks strikes me as a much more aggressive cost-cutting measure.

I’ll be curious to see what Vegas/Atlantic City guru Baccarat Guy thinks of this.

A big thanks to Le Chic Geek for supplying our featured image!

The post Are Free Drinks Coming To An End at Casinos In Las Vegas? was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. Maybe they could install machines in the parking lot that spit out free drink coupons when you pay to park, which is also a new negative trend in Vegas 🙂

      1. Most all the casinos in LV are going to that model of charging for parking. I guess they can reward elite high rollers with free parking. Shawn Coomer over at Miles to Memories would be much more of an expert on this I assume.
        I’m visiting Vegas right now but for business. My corporation won’t let me book the large casino strip hotels through Concur as they require deposit or pre-paid reservations which is against our corporate policy so I stay just off the strip where parking remains free of course. I did notice a few billboards near the airport advertising several casinos saying that they “still” have free parking.

        1. “I guess they can reward elite high rollers with free parking.” <== actually award anyone who has a Total Rewards Credit Card or Mlife Credit Card (or matched status from Hyatt to Mlife). So, it's not very hard to overcome the parking charges.

          1. I’ve always found it easier to qualify for status on hotel spend over casino spend. Pearl, the lowest “elite” tier requires $1,000 in hotel and restaurant spend between October 1 and September 30. Depending on your room and dining options (and frequency of visits), this can be pretty easy to do. Gold Requires $3,000 of non-casino spend and Platinum requires $8,000 of spend. However, status matching from Hyatt remains the cheapest means of obtaining status with Mlife.

            As for needing to put a deposit down for your room, if you book via the Mlife phone line for Mlife hotels no deposit is required.

          2. MBP, didn’t realize you could get elite status for as little as $1,000. That’s not hard to do in twelve months. Any idea how much in play you need to score these status levels?

          3. “How much play for status”

            That’s a slightly complex answer. You get 10 tier credits for ever $3 coin in on slots, 10 tier credits for ever $10 coin in on VP, and an unknown amount for table games (thought I’ve heard you need to bet $25/hand to be rated and will get 300-500 tier credits per hour at this rate, but I have no idea if this is accurate).

            Assuming this, the following coin-ins are required (if I did math correctly after a few beers):

            Slot coin in: Peal-$7500, Gold- $22500, Platinum-$60000

            VP coin in: Pearl-$25000, Gold-$75000, Platinum-$200000

            Hours of table games at $25/hand: Pearl-63, Gold-188, Platinum-500

          4. The EV for slots ranges from around -8% to around -14%, video poker +1% to around -4%. Lower denomination slots (in general) have a higher house edge. So, if you want the best return on slots (once again, very general statement) you should play high-denomination. Some other things like progressives can also impact EV. In addition, certain slots/vp are programmed with theo that is better than the mathematical EV. So you get a higher return in comps. So, if a game is -1.5% but returns .5% in comps… you often take that into account. The main difference, is you can calculate EV for Video Poker directly from pay tables. With slots, you really don’t know the EV unless someone will divulge this information based on their proprietary data linked to your players card account and details of play.

  2. Yeah, yeah – I’ve unfortunately had plenty of those $10-$20+ “free drinks” waiting for the waitress to return. 🙁

  3. I thought you would never ask. LOL Personally, with regard to bars I think it’s a good thing. Since those who are “really” playing can get at the machines more easily. No more, put a $20 in the machine… play a few hands single coin (which you should never do, but I digress). We did an overview, and found that for those that “really play” it has only a minor impact. Our conclusions and comparison to the three major systems in Vegas :

    Now, the other “bigger issue” is that most of the video poker bars in Vegas have HORRIBLE pay-tables. So, you are giving up a lot of EV for those “free” drinks. But, then again, most VP under $5 ($5 per unit, $25 per spin/hand on a single line) has “gone to hell” on the Vegas Strip.

    Biggest worry is Borgata, which still has full pay video poker *and* premium cocktails.

    Me, personally? I only play 9/6 JoB Video Poker (I also don’t really enjoy video poker) so there are basically no options at bars in Vegas anyway….

    1. Didn’t realize the pay-outs at the bar VP sucked. Makes sense, why give a premium payout if you don’t have to. I don’t play video poker but my business partner did have a strategy where he was running a couple hundred K a day through to earn a disgustingly large amount of comps. Ah, the good old days….

      I haven’t been back to the Borgata in over 5 years. Is it still as nice as it used to be?

      1. Is Borgata “nice.” Yes. Mandarin Oriental nice. No. By far (perhaps) the best on the East Coast (casino resorts). “New” Water Club tower and spa is also really great and operates as a hotel within a resort. Not to mention, with the separate dining (limited) and valet entrance you can actually stay there and never enter the Borgata Casino.

        I’ve been focusing a lot on Borgata, since the MGM take over and opening of the new MGM National Harbor. I believe there are going to be a lot of MGM-profit-growth devaluations. Everyone, more so the employees at Borgata, are quite worried.

        My semi-thoughtful thoughts :

        1. I never thought Borgata was awesome. But, compared to the rest of Vegas, it was a world apart. Haven’t been in years. I did read your downgrades post but not The Water Club. Thanks for that!

          1. I put it (The Water Club at Borgata) in the “strong” 4* category. The lack of “tech” in the rooms irritates me. Revel really did things right on the hotel side in Atlantic City. Alas, that didn’t work out so well. The Water Club also puts big restrictions on kids (nobody under 18 at the pool etc.); where as Borgata is still “kid friendly” at their indoor pool, but I believe the outdoor pool is 21+. I have a sweet spot for AC; but find it hard to recommend if gaming is not part of one’s vacation/get-away equation. Though, the food&beverage and club scene has gotten much better over the past 5-10 years. So perhaps, I just miss that angle or market in my observations.

    2. Try playing at the Boar’s Head Bar in downtown Vegas (Main Street Station). Tasty microbrews and full-pay VP.

    1. I believe free (comp) drinks are here to stay (in jurisdictions that allow free drinks, such as Vegas); but there will be more restrictions. Restrictions that try to limit the number of drinks and access to those playing at a certain level. Other restrictions like premium spirits, based on the amount of casino action. But, there are “bright spots.” In high-limit at Cosmo they comp (discretionary, just while playing, no points) signature cocktails that approach $20 each. I would say some of the best casino comp cocktails I have ever had. Caesars actually has drink ordering at some of their properties direct from the slot machines, and if you have a premium (Diamond etc.) card in you get access to a more extensive menu of comp drinks. In many ways, if done properly technology can actually provide enhancements even when there are some devaluations.

  4. Since I live in Vegas I loan out my Platinum Mlife card (obtained through Hyatt status) to people so they can avoid parking and skip the buffet line. I noticed when i got a new card since mine was lost the status date was extended on the card from the previous one….despite the fact that Diamonds are going to Mlife Gold shortly.

    Free drinks? Eh, if you want to watch sports from a table at Bellagio’s sports book you have to commit to buying $50 in F&B on a regular weekend day. For the Superbowl , some of the Big Game parties are charging 1000’s for a table.
    You can get a free drink ticket for betting $100 on a game, where the house edge is only 4.45%. You might have to ask, but they will give you one. I made a $1000 bet and they handed me as many as I wanted. Given their edge is 4.45% on straight bets, you could likely make smaller bets and end up eating away their entire edge by not paying for drinks. That doesn’t of course, account for the fact the cost of pour is well below 10%.

    Maybe we’ll have to start pre-gaming for the game

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