Mission146
Posted by Mission146
Sep 04, 2015

Will Truly, "Free," Drinks Become a Thing of the Past?

In addition to death and taxes, there is actually one more, 'Sure thing in life,' and that is that, if you are playing machines or a table game in Las Vegas, Nevada, you will be offered free drinks while playing.  In fairness, it was never quite absolutely a sure thing as many casinos (and this is mostly true of bartop games) have required a minimum bet amount in order to obtain the free drinks.  Of course, that amount varies from casino to casino.

In a sense, though, the free drinks are never actually free...unless one is playing a positive machine and getting free drinks, then theoretically, that person is actually getting paid for drinking the casino's booze.  Generally speaking, though, with the free drinks comes the expectation that the player is actively playing the machine.  In that sense, the drinks are not free as the casino is providing the drinks with the knowledge that the house edge on the games will (generally) result in the casino making the cost of the drinks back and then some.

Even on the floor, some cocktail waitresses at certain casinos will suggest that a player need to be betting more if the player wishes for the drinks to continue to be free.  

The point is, the drinks are not actually supposed to actually be free.  

Vital Vegas has recently reported:

http://vitalvegas.com/mirage-las-vegas-tests-comped-drink-voucher-system-everything-is-ruined/

That the MIrage is testing a comped drink voucher system that will disseminate vouchers for drinks based, in some way, on an individual's play.  The Vital Vegas Article noted that the drinks seemed to come faster to players playing higher denominations, so one might assume that the system is based on coin-in.  

There is no question that free drinks for playing is a staple of Las Vegas, but if this system gets enough casinos on board, could it spell the end for free drinks as we know them?  An even more important question might be: Is this a patently ridiculous thing to have?

Unfortunately, I don't know the answer to that question.  However, I can think of a few possible perspectives on the matter from both the side of the player and the side of the casino.  Hopefully, we can continue the discussion in the comments!

Player Perspective

I'm going to go ahead and start off with the perspective of the player, mainly because I want everyone to be able to read at least 50% of the Article before they begin hating me.  

The first thing that comes to mind is that this is a blatant bean-counter measure.  Free drinks for playing has long been an honored tradition in Las Vegas, and for there to be any other stipulations attached to that is deplorable.  Not only that, but if all of the casinos in Vegas were to switch to this format, it is going to take away some of the incentive that players have for going to Vegas to begin with.  

The other problem with the system is that it is nonsensical to have to wait for a free drink while playing the games.  We all know that the cash prices demanded at many Vegas bars are completely absurd, so the casino is essentially limiting the player to paying an obscene amount of money for a drink, or alternatively, "Going dry."  

That's it.  I'm sorry.  That's all I've got for the player's side of the argument.

Casino Perspective

I am about to take any respect and popularity I have ever garnered as a poster and a writer here and flush it down the toilet...

Unfortunately, from the standpoint of the casinos, I have to admit that this decision makes complete and total sense, but only if enough casinos (i.e. The Strip) get on board.  

As mentioned before, getting free drinks for playing is a nicety provided by the casino based on the expectation that the casino is making the cost of the booze back, and then some.  A system such as this will simply enable the casinos to base the free drink output on, what I would guess, is total coin-in.  I mean, it's actually possible that they could base it on the EV of a particular game, but I think straight coin-in is a simpler way to do it.  It may differentiate between Video Poker and Video Keno, though.

The result is that the House is simply attempting to make a quantitative judgment on what was (theoretically) a subjective judgment call by Management/Waitress/Bartender.  In other words, the casino can be absolutely positive that they are getting whatever Expected Win (or total coin-in, whichever) for every drink they give out.  As a result of the fact that the player must play to generate whatever the qualifier is, then people aren't going to continuously get free drinks for hanging out at the bar and playing a hand every once in a while.

Furthermore, cocktail waitresses and bartenders can be fallible in this regard.  What I mean is that, with generous tipping, the bartender/waitress might stop paying attention to how much, or even IF, the player is playing.  I've had this happen during my excursions to bars in Vegas, probably more often than not.

Don't misunderstand, that is a decidedly positive scenario for the bartender or waitress, keep the drinks coming and the player will keep the tips coming, but the casino is not making any money off of that!  That would be like a restaurant giving out free food provided the diners tip the waitress very generously!

The other thing is that it keeps players from deliberately abusing the system, via slow-play, at least to an extent.  Granted, a player could theoretically cash out his ticket and pop $20 in at a different bar within the casino and attempt to hop from bar to bar without actually having to, 'Earn,' any drinks...but at least that's an extra hurdle.  

In addition to that, it might either be possible or become possible for a casino to use an individual's players club card to determine how many drinks he/she has been getting for free and off-setting that from other comps.  For example, it might not take a substantial ADT for a player to generate a few free room and food offers, but once the casino can determine that the player also had ten or more free drinks during that time, the casino might be inclined to rein in those other offers a little bit.  

It all goes back to the fact that the casino's expectation is that the player is there playing steadily and is there to gamble.  The only difference is that the technology now exists for the casino to be able to ensure that such is the case.

Conclusion

Don't get me wrong, when I feel like just having a few drinks, I am certainly going to miss playing Caveman Keno, a nickel at a time and getting three or four drinks in that hour for doing so...an hour in which I play, maybe, 200 draws.  With that said, though, I could certainly understand why the casino would not want to trade me three or four drinks for an Expected Loss of $1.00.  

I think that the comp drink system being tried at The Mirage might be something that we see at a good many casinos within the next few years, or if not, something remotely similar.  Really, for any cost-cutting measure, popular or not, the biggest thing that matters is whether or not your competitors are also doing it.  If all of the other Strip properties are eager to get on board, then I could see something like this spreading pretty rapidly.  

How many Strip casinos still offer 3:2 Blackjack on their lowest minimum tables compared to 6:5 Blackjack?  

Granted, I don't think 6:5 Blackjack even deserves to be called Blackjack and is a fundamentally unfair game while, in comparison, I think the comped drinks system is mostly fair.  My point, however, is that most of the other Strip casinos were not compelled to offer low-limit 3:2 Blackjack to differentiate themselves from those who only offer 6:5 at low limits.  The Strip casinos have already differentiated themselves simply by being The Strip casinos and the destination of choice for visitors to Las Vegas.  

Besides, the kind of customer that The Strip casinos would be going for is not too particularly concerned about whether or not she has to earn her drinks in a quantitatively objective way...she could probably afford to pay cash, anyway.  

At the end of the day, the players most harmed by this are the low-rollers, and The Strip casinos have enacted other measures to make it increasingly clear that they don't care what the low-rollers want.

Just don't let this system spread to Downtown, please?

Comments

Hullabaloo
Hullabaloo Sep 05, 2015

I think you are omitting one important aspect that can't be bean counted: people that are a little tipsy are probably going to gamble more than they might have otherwise. People that are a lot tipsy are probably going to go full tilt. I always figured THAT was the primary reason for free drinks.

I think most people would get pissed off if they sit down and find they have to either pay or play for a half hour before getting a drink. You won't find me doing it, that's for sure. As for the bums playing Caveman Keno a nickle at a time just to get a free drink, (sorry, couldn't resist), there might be a better way to reduce that.

Give the first drink free but make additional drinks conditional on putting through a reasonable amount of play. If you don't do X amount of coin per hour no more drinks for you. I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to have some notification on the players screen so the server could know if they qualified, but I'm not sure how to approach the problem of machines that are not being played at all as it would need to "reset" at some point to give that first free drink.

I wonder if these systems would allow for booze APing too. You scope out the casino looking for people that are playing but not drinking and either vulture their vouchers or wait for people to play a while who then leave and you swoop down and put in a modest amount of cash to finish it off and get the voucher ;)

Romes
Romes Sep 09, 2015

Great article, and unfortunately unbiased. I still don't agree that it's all peaches and cream from the casinos perspective though. What about the guy that gets loaded on the bar top machine and then goes and dumps $1k on blackjack playing awful while drunk? Where's the quantitative measurement for that in the bar top machine? What about branding? Take away peoples 3/2 blackjack for 6/5 and sure there's a stink, but most people are so ignorant that they don't notice. Booze will NOT be the same. EVERYONE will notice when you start taking their drinks away and it is my belief that they will brand your casino a "no go" after they figure that out. I think casinos that employ this are essentially shooting themselves in the foot and driving people out of their doors. Lastly, on the casinos perspective, the bartenders probably hate this as well. So again, I think it's much more problematic for the casinos that originally meets the eye.

One last snip about the end of the article... You said "she could probably afford to pay cash, anyway." Should probably be "he" =D.

Mission146
Mission146 Sep 10, 2015

Hullabaloo,

Some of the casinos reduce the, "Bum play," to a certain extent in that the cocktail waitresses will occasionally tell you that you have to bet higher to continue getting drinks. However, for many waitresses, if the, 'bum,' is tipping fairly well, then there's really not much incentive to irritate the bum. You could theoretically have a supervisor walking around seeing what people are betting and sort of audit the cocktail waitress to make sure they are getting the play (in terms of amount bet per play) that the casino wants, I suppose.

As far as the coin-per-hour idea, that's pretty much what is already happening with this system, I think. That would basically be the same thing, just without the physical coupon.

Romes,

I think that you are largely correct in your analysis, which is why for something like this to be effective across-the-board it's going to require that all of the strip casinos are on-board with it. If any (or most) of them choose not to do it, then the idea will likely be abandoned. Same thing, I think, if they also see a drop in average theoretical on rated play, particularly so if they notice customers with a long history with the house playing less.

As far as the third-person pronoun goes, he/she are interchangeable if one is not referring to a specific person and the sentence consistently uses the same gender. I was just mixing it up a bit.

AZDuffman
AZDuffman Sep 10, 2015

Interesting article. Sad that casinos are starting this. My prediction is that it spreads and as it does there goes one more piece of the mystique that once was Las Vegas.

Here is more way to look at it. Business, not just casino business, was different before the early 1980s. While "professional management" rose at the end of WWII, there was not the obsession of every little corner like there is today. This was more true in an environment like a casino, where what matters is the whole resort.

Of course, the customer changed as well. Today there are way more people trying to scam a comp than the old days. Travel books like "Comp City" tell people how to game the system by betting more only when the Pit Boss is looking, as if every Pit Boss does not know this.

Would Frank Rosenthal or Benny Binion worry about a few extra comped drinks? Frank was all about good service to bring in the crowds and Benny invented the modern comp!

Today's MBAs want to track everything to the death. We need a new class of Bennys that don't bend over to pick up a nickel and miss the guy handing out dollar bills go by.

jml24
jml24 Sep 11, 2015

I don't really have a problem with casinos expecting a certain level of play to get free drinks, but the ticket system puts it in the player's face a little too much. Part of what the Strip casinos are selling is a certain experience where the customer gets to fantasize they are a rich person. This plays into the casino's hands because a rich person won't worry about losing a bit of money here and there. Whenever the casino does something to obviously nickel and dime the players, like this drink ticket scheme, it breaks the fantasy.

Yes the casino wants to make a good profit in the short term. Strip casinos should also consider how they are impacting the overall experience they offer the players so they continue to be a gambling destination.

Mission146
Mission146 Sep 11, 2015

JML24,

I certainly see your point, and this definitely seems like the most extreme measure of this nature, but I understand what they're trying to do.

The problem with waitress and bartender enforcement is the difference between bums and...um...let's say, "Advantage Drinkers." So, Advantage Drinkers are different than bums in that buns are also stiffs, but ADs are not necessarily. I'm paying for my drinks in Vegas, but I know exactly how much, they're $1.00 each.

Waitress makes about $5/hour on me, only thing she wants is ms to drink even faster! Waitress doesn't care about a bum and probably only begrudgingly serves a high-limit stiff. $1.00/drink, two people, $2.00 every trip, I'm her favorite person! Probably don't even have to be playing the machine with any kind of meaningful speed.

Now, if we look at the bum who is also a stiff, who's getting the Rule enforced on them and who is likely not getting if enforced? It's tough. It really borders on a conflict of interest at that point, she's making money off of the alcohol the casino bought! Again, casino might not even make what it spent back.

I understand your point about guest impact, I would think of this as something of a test market for that.

sroeben
sroeben Sep 13, 2015

Great analysis and very much enjoyed both the article and the comments on this story. When I was there for my original story, it did occur to me bartenders do what the machine is doing at Mirage, but the procedure was very frustrating and I knew I would never play at that bar again. I suspect others will feel the same way, so these casino companies need to think long and hard about the potential damage they're doing to their brands and bottom lines. Thanks again for the link to my story!

Mission146
Mission146 Sep 13, 2015

Sroeben,

Thanks for the compliments, and of course I really enjoyed your Article, too! Have to use Wizardofodds to look for better VP paytables, though, that bar wouldn't even have to worry about me being there in the first place with those paytables.

You're welcome for the link, and ultimately, I don't think this is something that will spread.

I'll shoot you a PM next time I'm in Vegas, we should have a drink or two!

100xOdds
100xOdds Sep 18, 2015

what Hullabaloo said in his 1st paragraph.
(I didn't read anything else.)
:)

ukaserex
ukaserex Feb 04, 2016

I'm getting to this article late - as I try to sift through material during breaks at work and only found this site a short time ago.

As someone who used to be a restaurant manager, there's one thing I may have missed, or just didn't see mentioned about risk:

Liability.

A few made note of the inclination to bet more heavily/aggressively when buzzed/drunk. Sure, that's a win for the casino - unless the player gets lucky.

But - what about the liability of the casino should that player get blotto and have an accident? My guess is that may have happened, resulted in a losing lawsuit for a casino once too many times and they're reacting to that increase in risk by slowing down service.

I could, of course, be wrong - but that liability is what keeps me from drinking when I'm not staying at the hotel at the casino.

Still, a most excellent article!

Mission146
Mission146 Feb 04, 2016

Ukaserex,

Thanks for the compliment! I also understand your point, but keep in mind that the drink vouchers are based on play. If the casino was simply concerned about the player overindulging, then they could simply limit the amount of alcohol by printing vouchers just for having a PC card in for a certain duration.

This isn't a question of drink or no drink, it's one of free or not free.

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