At the bar, a pair of Vegas casino giants use tech to up the ante for free drinks
The free drinks at casinos make everyone feel like a winner. However, two casino behemoths are killing the buzz: At select properties, MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment are no longer providing gratis cocktails to bar patrons who are drinking and yakking more than drinking and gambling. The new mantra: must play for a cocktail.
“We are making a concerted effort to reward our larger-spending customers,” said Rich Broome, executive vice president of communications at Caesars. “This discourages people who are just looking for a free drink.”
At the moment, the new policy applies only to casino bars with video-poker machines. (To clear up any misunderstandings, the bars never provided complimentary drinks to non-gambling guests, though the rule was not always enforced.) After a short trial in late 2015, Caesars introduced the comp notification system at nine properties throughout Nevada, including those in Las Vegas, Laughlin, Reno and Lake Tahoe. Within the last year, MGM has rolled out a similar program at MGM Grand and TopGolf, an entertainment venue on the Strip. A company executive said that MGM could expand the program to its casinos in New Jersey and Mississippi. (Gamblers in Michigan and Maryland don’t have to worry; by law, they were never allowed free alcohol.)
“In the 1950s, the industry was trying to incentivize,” said Alan Feldman, executive vice president of MGM Resorts. “Now, it’s a reward.”
To earn a drink at the bar, guests must play a certain amount of money over a set amount of time. At Caesars, once you reach the minimum level, a discreet green light will flash as a signal for the bartender to start pouring. Broome said that Caesars’s system averages out to $4 a minute, and the light starts blinking after two minutes of play. Each drink is worth about $10 — the value of a Johnny Walker Black or Smirnoff vodka but not a top-shelf malt scotch.
“If you don’t keep up the four dollars per minute,” he said, “it will start flashing red.”
To restore your greenness, you will need to feed the meter.
MGM uses a similar system, with printed vouchers instead of lights. Feldman didn’t provide a specific monetary figure but advised customers to ask the bartender how much money they need play to receive a free drink.
“This isn’t a way of trying to induce further gambling,” he said, but is meant to acknowledge a certain breed of customers.
Before the new arrangement, the bartenders had to monitor the video-poker activity while also concocting cocktails, ringing up tabs and bantering with customers. No surprise that some visitors sipped without paying or playing.
“The green-light program eliminates the guesswork,” Broome said.
Now exposed, the freeloaders can either court Lady Luck at the bar or repair to the casino floor, where the booze still flows freely.
While free drinks might still freely roam the casino floors, select MGM and Caesars properties are policing harder at the bar.