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June 15th, 2010 at 3:46:03 PM permalink
‘Free cocktails?’ a dying call at casinos
Julie Carr Smyth, Associated Press
Monday, June 14, 2010 | 2:41 p.m.

The quintessential Las Vegas or Atlantic City casino experience comes with card dealers in ties, feather-festooned showgirls and the most coveted amenity: the free drink.

Yet as casino gambling has migrated from America's storied gambling towns to middle America, the complimentary cocktail hasn't always survived the trip.

The reasons are sometimes moral, sometimes economic. The new generation of casinos faces varying guidelines established by local legislators who didn't always support their arrival.

Paying for drinks has left lovers of the freebie, like Lynette Gross of Indiana, bummed.

"It just makes it more fun. It's one less thing you have to pay for," said Gross, who has visited casinos in Indiana and Las Vegas. "I don't think it makes you drink more. It's just a nice perk."

A new Ohio law puts the state's up-and-coming casinos — just approved by voters in the fall — among those that don't allow complimentary cocktails. Other Midwestern states — Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kansas — don't allow their casinos to offer free alcohol, says the American Gaming Association.

Of 13 states where non-Indian, non-racetrack casinos are operating, nine — Nevada, New Jersey, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and South Dakota — allow casinos to serve free booze. In three of those, most casinos don't take advantage, the association says.

The Ohio chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving was among groups that pushed for strict alcohol standards at Ohio casinos. The law, signed by Gov. Ted Strickland on Thursday, bans both free drinks and 24-hour liquor sales at casinos, stopping them at 2:30 a.m., the same as bars.

Doug Scoles, executive director of MADD's Ohio chapter, thinks the free drink bans reflect old-fashioned Midwest values.

"I don't want to stereotype," Scoles said, "but I do believe Midwest culture supports not serving alcohol freely, on a 24/7 basis. It's seen for the damage it does to communities."

Kansas stands out even among Midwestern states; it forbids handing out free alcoholic drinks at any establishment. The state has a long history of alcohol restrictions, including statewide bans on happy hour specials and drinking games, such as beer pong.

"I'm sure it came out of the Prohibition era, the temperance and moderation," said Tom Groneman, head of Kansas' liquor control agency. "As a matter of fact, in Kansas we don't allow happy hours. You have to have happy days."

The economic interests of other businesses also play a part.

Restaurants, bars and taverns are among groups that have lobbied legislatures for laws preventing new casinos from offering free alcohol. It's a business issue, not a moral one, said Jarrod Clabaugh, spokesman for the Ohio Restaurant Association.

"We were concerned it would create an uneven playing field," Clabaugh said. "Free drinks improve the odds of people not leaving the casinos to go out, enjoy the community and dine at our members."

Last year, the Illinois Casino Gaming Association even fought back some of its own. A riverboat casino was pushing a change in state law that would have allowed free drinks exclusively in floating gambling houses. The company argued complimentary cocktails would boost patronage in the wake of a statewide smoking ban.

As states new to casino gaming, like Ohio, weigh in on free drinks, even casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City are scaling back to cut costs.

The 38 Vegas resorts reported comping $310.7 million in drinks in fiscal year 2009, a 2 percent drop from the previous year. Total comps in Atlantic City — including drinks, meals, hotel rooms and entertainment — fell 5 percent in 2009, to $1.55 billion.

The increasingly elusive free drink doesn't mean booze is losing its popularity at casinos. Casinos sell more alcohol when they stop giving it away, according to industry data. And some are adding or expanding their alcohol offerings.

Harrah's Cherokee in North Carolina got permission last year to add alcohol sales to its previously dry casino. Turning Stone in upstate New York won a state liquor license in May that will make alcohol more widely available throughout its facilities. And Fire Rock, a Navajo-run casino in New Mexico, now serves alcohol though sales and possession of it are prohibited across most of the 27,000-square-mile reservation.

Alcohol profits weren't worth it for the operators of Golden Buffalo Resort and Casino in South Dakota, however. The Sioux tribe there banned alcohol reservation-wide last year, including at the casino.
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June 15th, 2010 at 4:09:34 PM permalink
Thanks for posting this. I've only gotten free drinks in Vegas, A.C. and Peru :). Seneca Niagara near Buffalo will comp well drinks for players. You can get free top-shelf drinks in the high-limit room at Greektown Casino in Detroit. I'm curious what drinks people order in casinos. I usually go for single-malt scotch (MacAllan if they have it, otherwise Glenlivet), Rusty Nails (Drambuie & Scotch), or sometimes Vodka and Soda. I sometimes use the opportunity to try "girly" drinks that I would otherwise be embarrassed to order at a bar, like a Baybreeze with Malibu -- quite tasty :). What do y'all get?
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June 15th, 2010 at 4:29:00 PM permalink
All major casinos in Vegas hand out free drinks, yet Vegas is festooned with bars. I don't think the free drinks at the casinos does anything to the bars' business.

I usually drink vodka cocktails. My favorites are Black Russian (vodka & khalua), White Russian (vodka and cream), Sangria (vodka, red wine, grenadine syrup and grapefruit soda; you can get this only in Mexico City as far as I know), Screwdriver (vodka and OJ), Bloody Mary (vodka and tomato juice with tabasco sauce and other seasonings, it's highly variable). In Vegas I'll often get a frozen lemonade with vodka at the Spanish Steps in Caesars (it's outside, by the escalator to the walkway to the Bellagio). I can also drink vodka tonic if nothing better's available.

Another thing I've only seen in Mexico is something called Angel's Kiss, it's Khalua and cream, with a cherry rolled in sugar.
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June 15th, 2010 at 5:13:38 PM permalink
This is kind of random, but I have found that casinos tend to have very good hot chocolate, and always add whipped cream. I get that, or fancy beer.
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June 15th, 2010 at 5:52:48 PM permalink
Quote: dlevinelaw

This is kind of random, but I have found that casinos tend to have very good hot chocolate, and always add whipped cream.


I normally don't drink booze except on special occasions.

Particularly at a casino. I'm not gonna start getting drunk and betting stupid.

But I'll always get a hot chocolate with a splash of something before heading to my room. In fact, I tell the waitress to surprise me with her choice of what to add.

It is my favorite little casino indulgence. :)
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June 15th, 2010 at 6:56:40 PM permalink
This has been kind an ongoing debate at the Indiana casinos of late. As I've mentioned before, with Ohio now having casinos coming online, there is a big concern about the loss of state tax dollars down near Cincy. One of the discussions included allowing casinos to give away free booze. Currently, as the article stated, casinos are not allowed to give it away, and they must stop serving at 3am - same as bars. However, drinks are extremely cheap, pretty much everything is around $2-$ the hotel bars outside the casinos they are much higher.

For one thing, I'm hoping that the new competition will loosen up the comps and bring down the hotel prices. The hotels attached to the casinos are rediculously expensive on the weekends. On Memorial Day weekend friday night, the casino I was at was charging $329/night, and they were fully booked. This was at Hollywod Casino in Lawrenceburg - near Cincy.
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June 15th, 2010 at 7:27:36 PM permalink
I live in Missouri, where the casinos cannot give away comped drinks. I have noticed different casinos throughout the state have different policies. Ameristar in Kansas City sells alcohol until 3 a.m. whereas most restaurants and bars in the KC area can only serve until 1:30. This is a special local license (I believe), and there are a couple of such licenses in KC that I am aware of, but generally that 1:30 rule sticks.

Another example is the Isle of Capri in Boonville, which is very close to me. Here, alcohol sales are not only ended at 1:30, but the Isle also implements a "one drink per 30 minutes rule." They will not serve anyone more than one drink, whether beer, mixed drink or any other alcoholic beverage, within a 30 minute period. They really do clock the patrons and enforce this rule. The dealers and other casino employees will often tell people that state gaming regulations require the 30 minute rule, which is simply false. The most common explanation I have heard is that the Isle has received some hefty, hefty fines in the past for over-serving and for serving minors (a HUGE no-no). I don't believe, however, that fines would really deter the Isle from over serving. Quite frankly, they could afford to pay fines, and budget them as a cost of operation. It could be that the 30-minute rule was a special provision tacked on to their particular gaming license due to past violations, but for the Isle to say that state gaming regulations require such a rule is simply untrue...
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June 15th, 2010 at 9:00:17 PM permalink
First off, I think it's fucking ridiculous for a state to tell the businesses that they can't give their paying customers a legal substance. It pisses me off every time I go to a local casino.

Mainly: How are comped drinks regulated in terms of costs/taxation? I would think that a drink costs them maybe a buck or two, max, but if their "value" is around $10 then they could write off enough taxes to actually pay for that drink and then some. I don't understand these business accounting practices, so if I'm off somewhere please explain it to me (I really do want to know even if it's technical).
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June 16th, 2010 at 12:20:09 AM permalink
Alcohol is legal but highly regulated.

All casinos probably make internal charges for drinks that are served for free ... its akin to what the accountants do when the casino comps you to a hotel room: the hotel charges the casino a flat rate for that room.

Free drinks are charged aboard most gambling boats, so the recipient who gets the drink for free is often required to initial the receipt that was issued to the waitress. Most drinks I've ordered on the Day Boats in Florida were charged internally at a dollar seventy-five. So all I had to do was scribble my initials next to that drink that I had ordered.

New Mexico has some of the strangest rules about liquor in their Indian casinos with differences between the casino and the poker room liquor laws as to what will be served and when it will be served.

The Gaming Commission in Nevada issues reports on the comped items but I don't think there is any way to drill down to see what dollar values are used.
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June 16th, 2010 at 4:54:01 AM permalink
Quote: pacomartin

Doug Scoles, executive director of MADD's Ohio chapter, thinks the free drink bans reflect old-fashioned Midwest values.

"I don't want to stereotype," Scoles said, "but I do believe Midwest culture supports not serving alcohol freely, on a 24/7 basis. It's seen for the damage it does to communities."

First of all, this idea that Midwesterners are somehow morally superior to people who live on the coasts is just horseshit. I'm sick of hearing about real Americans in real America, and I'm someone who grew up in Indiana. A lesbian sex shop owner in downtown San Francisco is just as American as some preacher in Iowa.

Second, the free drink may be disappearing in Vegas, too. I've noticed more scrutiny of the LEVEL of play at bartop machines before a drink can be comped. At Planet Ho, they won't comp you unless you're playing more than $1 a pull -- which I don't have a huge problem with. At the Wynn properties, however, they don't comp any drinks at the bars, even though the denominations are pretty high and the games pretty terrible. I think that's pretty chintzy.

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