Video Poker & Comp Drinks – New Monitoring Systems

Are you used to getting free drinks when you gamble? Well, if you play video poker at bars in Las Vegas, don’t be surprised if you encounter a new practice for dispensing comped beverages.

A computerized monitoring system has been put into effect at all the bars in The Cosmo, as well as the nine Caesar’s properties in Las Vegas (plus all the Caesar’s properties in Nevada). The Vital Vegas blog announced this in late September. That post confirmed it was installed in Bally’s (Sully’s Bar and Casino Bar), Cromwell (Lobby Bar), Linq (Tag Sports Bar, Catalyst and 3535 Bar), Flamingo (X Bar and Bugsy’s), Harrah’s, Rio, Caesars Palace, Paris and Planet Hollywood.

Vegas Bar

Drink service has not changed on the casino floors and, for now, this practice is not Vegas-wide. The old-fashioned way still stands at the Tropicana, the Golden Gate and the D Las Vegas, the Sands, the Silverton Casino and all Boyd properties.

MGM is the only other Vegas conglomerate doing this. It has been limited to a testing process there for about a year now — involving the Lobby Bar at the MGM Grand, which seems to include slots and VP, and a bar at MGM Mirage. [Maybe their slow rollout is due to blow back, after implementing paid parking or cutting back slightly on shot pours?] However, the expectation is similar systems will be spreading to other local bars, and also eventually to slot machines on the floors.

The rationale for such automation is that it will aid bartenders and mixologists in evaluating which people “deserve” free drinks. They will be able to tell at a glance, rather than having to constantly keep track by eyeballing it. Minimums have been around for a long time, as have cameras, but casinos are now utilizing technology.

Theoretically this will provide patrons with even better bar service.   Bartenders may or may not like this system, as it could affect tips, but it should make life easier for them. It seems there may also still be some room for high tier loyalty club members. The bartender may think to explain it, but if not, don’t hesitate to ask.

The purpose appears to be preventing freeloaders from cashing in on free drinks too easily, and obviously that is a benefit to the casinos.   However, it also means there is no point to them dawdling and occupying a machine, which is a positive for someone who really wants to play but can’t find a seat.

Here’s the way it works, generally: If you put $20 into a video poker machine when you first sit down, you’ll start the ball rolling. Specifics can vary for each establishment. At some places that will bring a free drink right away, at others it might require more. After that, comps are based on a calculation combining the amount of money plus the pace of your play.

At Caesar’s a light system has been installed on the back of the VP machines to indicate each gambler’s progress. Patrons may not be able to see the lights directly, although it could be possible to use your hand or a phone indirectly. You can also ask the bartender, who will tell you what he sees.

While there may be some differences from one company to another, the machine will register your initial deposit, triggering a blue light at Caesar’s, then keep up with how much you play. The light system translates that into info for the bartenders.   If you meet ‘quota’, the drinks will keep coming.

At Caesar’s, where it is called a “comp validation system”, this will mean playing max bet (five quarters =$1.25) for a certain number of hands. A green light will come on, indicating a drink is warranted. If you continue to play max bet consistently, the light will stay green. If you play too slowly, you’ll lose the green light and have to ‘requalify’. In some places red lights mean no drinks, in others it could indicate a premium brand if it is blinking instead of solid. The best we can tell, Caesar’s requires max bet but that is not the case elsewhere.

So take note, as this is where some distinctions begin to arise, and not surprisingly flexibility varies widely on everything from amount wagered to redemption. To avoid issues, we suggest asking bartenders how timing or comps should work at each location you visit.

As one example, at Caesar’s you only get comp drinks while playing, right there/right then. They will limit the brands to about three choices per category. MGM also will restrict your selection, but you can postpone accepting your drink (see below).

With MGM, you accrue points, and point thresholds are the key rather than a specific number of hands; each MLife Rewards point is earned with every $10 coin-in when playing video poker. For instance, at Tag Sports Bar at The Linq we heard that you must play $6 (five $1.25 max bet hands) every two minutes, for 20 minutes, to receive a complimentary beer. If you are chatting or watching a game, that might be a more of a stretch than if you are there solo. The tricky bit with Rewards points seems to be that tickets don’t arrive exactly on a scheduled basis, such as every 15 points then bingo, so don’t take your first ticket as a bellwether.

At The Cosmo and MGM, you can get vouchers, actual paper tickets to use for free drinks. Note though, the voucher is probably good for only 24 hours and may have stipulations about redemption locations.   At The Cosmo, the voucher can be used away from the VP machine, at the couches etc. Depending on the bar, you could be eligible for something special, like one of the Cosmo’s Signature Drinks, typically $16, or a premium brand of liquor.

Of course, there is the option of actually paying for your drinks while playing VP. Depending on how your luck is running, that might be more economical!

As far as customer reaction goes, it has been mixed. Many people don’t mind it since they play enough to not notice a difference, and it can cut down on crowding. On the other hand, some people hate it as yet one more way in which the bean counters are nickeling and diming them, feeling it represents the demise of the ‘old Vegas’, leading to the day when no drinks will be comped at all. There are also questions as to whether the casinos will amp up criteria during holidays or busier times, as they do with room pricing, etc., or if this will become a rationale for fewer bartenders which will then make getting drinks even harder.

In the middle, you find people who don’t mind so much but wish the rules were a little different. For instance, instead of max bet – which some never play, or won’t play if the machine is cold – why not base it on total dollar amount wagered? Another alternative would be not having a predetermined pace of play as a requirement, which makes it more difficult for those watching a game and/or chatting with friends.

Whether or not the casinos will decide to consider these factors is unknown, as the bottom line is their main concern. There are reports that folks have said they will vote with their feet – especially those who say they are feeling gouged – and either stay away from the Strip, or even Vegas altogether.   That is certainly their prerogative, but until business really drops off, don’t expect very much to change.