One of my favorite parts of Las Vegas is all of the comped drinks. Which is short for complimentary drinks. Which is casino jargon for free drinks.
You read that right: free drinks.
Need I say more? Probably not, but it wouldn’t be Viva Las Value without a long-winded geeky explanation, so let’s talk more about the best way to maximize your (drinking) value in Las Vegas!
Drinks are only free if you’re gambling (or look like you’re gambling).
And, as any seasoned gambler knows, Lady Luck is a fickle mistress. Which means that sometimes you will win, sometimes you will break even, and sometimes you will lose. Fortunately, free drinks can help offset the house edge and make it possible to come out ahead — or at least buzzed.
So, about those free drinks. Or should I say, “free” drinks:
- Sometimes drinks are truly free in that you break even. Which is technically a win, since you would’ve paid way too much for it at the bar.
- Sometimes you pay a LOT more than you’d pay for your drink at the overpriced bar 20 feet away. Learn from my mistakes… I’ve had a $51 Heineken before.
- Sometimes, though, the stars align, and you transcend the odds to achieve the ultimate dream: getting paid to drink. Trust me, nothing tastes sweeter than a beer that you’re getting paid to drink.
Ordering Your Free Drink
The steps to getting a free drink are simple.
- Gamble (don’t forget to use your players card!)
- Listen for the siren call of “driiiinks? cocktaaaiiiiiills?”
- Make eye contact with the cocktail waitress (or bartender)
- Order your drink
- Get your tip ready as you wait for the waitress to return
- Collect your drink and tip the cocktail waitress
- Protip: if you’re serious about your drinking, give a larger tip and ask her to bring another next time she comes around; do this, and you’ll never have an empty glass/bottle. Just remember that you can only have one drink in front of you at once, so drink quickly!
- Repeat until you are sufficiently drunk
What can I get free?
Beer, liquor, wine, and cocktail selection varies by property, so don’t hesitate to ask the cocktail waitress what they have in your preferred category. They will be more than happy to give you a quick rundown of what they can offer for bourbons or beers, but they won’t be amused if you ask the broad question “what do you serve?” since they’re effectively a roving bar, and time is money since they rely on tips.
Most places will serve bottles, but if you’re playing at the bar, you’ll sometimes get drafts.
Every casino will have the standard American beers (Bud, Miller, Coors, etc., and their corresponding light varieties) and popular imports (Heineken, Corona, etc.). Most casinos also have faux-craft beers like Blue Moon and Goose Island.
Craft beer selection varies by casino, so it never hurts to ask, but be prepared to be flexible if the server tells you they don’t have it. I recommend having a fallback domestic (mine is Bud Light, since I like to hydrate while I’m drinking) just to be safe.
If you’re a beer snob like me, your best bet is to play bartop video poker so you can see the taps they have and order accordingly. Ellis Island and Main Street Station both brew their own beer in house, which means you can get some nice pints fresh from the keg. The Vue Bar (upstairs at the D) and Bar Prohibition (at Golden Gate) also have a great selection of beers on tap.
Every casino will have well liquors for all of the standard types of liquor (whiskey, vodka, rum, tequila, etc), as well as a large selection of premium/call brands (Jack Daniels, Maker’s Mark, Grey Goose, Captain Morgan, Patron, etc).
ALWAYS order a call drink and/or ask the cocktail waitress what brands they can comp and order accordingly. If you order a “shot of whiskey” you’ll get a shot of gut rot. But if you order a Maker’s Mark, they’ll either bring you a glass of quality bourbon or tell you “we can’t comp that, but we can do Jack Daniels/Jim Beam/Crown Royal/Windsor.” Anything is better than gut rot.
I usually stick to beer in Vegas (since it’s not a sprint, and I have to carbo load for my all-day drinking marathons), but I’ve been impressed with the bourbon selection at The Cromwell (comped healthy pours of Woodford Reserve) and Main Street Station (I literally fished off a bottle of Maker’s Mark on Election Night 2016).
Every casino will have the standard cocktails (liquor + mixer, margarita, martini, cosmopolitan, mimosa, etc) and the ability to make most things. The cocktail waitress puts your order in at the bar, so if a bartender can make it, they’ll be able to deliver it.
Again, when you order your cocktail, be sure to specify the brand so you don’t get stuck with bottom shelf liquor. Most bars are fully stocked, so shoot for the moon (but be prepared with an easier backup just in case).
Many places have frozen cocktails, and I’ve also seen people order unique drinks like the Mississippi Mudslide, a Hot Toddy, or coffee-based cocktails.
Wine hits me with a brutal hangover when I overdo it (which is every day in Las Vegas), so I’ve never ordered it at the casino. However, I often see people drinking it. Unless you’re balling out in the high limit room, they probably won’t have specific brands, but they do seem to have multiple varieties of whites and reds covered.
Order by type (chardonnay, merlot, white zinfandel, etc.), and the cocktail waitress should be able to get you what you want (or something close to it)!
Cocktail waitresses can also bring non-alcoholic beverages. Since not everyone is as irresponsible as me in Las Vegas, I’ll refrain from making a snarky comment and add my obligatory reminder to order water.
I’ve seen people order tea, coffee, hot chocolate, pop (not soda, pop damn it!), virgin drinks, juice, energy drinks, and much more.
Okay, calm down all you pedants… the drinks aren’t TRULY free in that you have to tip the cocktail waitress! This is a small price to pay for a bottomless glass of your favorite booze.
The standard tip is $1 per drink. This should keep the cocktail waitresses coming back frequently. I always give $1 for each drink they hand me (including waters). No need to break the bank here, however an extra buck or two occasionally will ensure that they come back even quicker. Additionally, if you plan to post up at a machine or table for a while, a larger tip at first will show the waitress that you’re serious about drinking, and will pay dividends.
You can tip in cash and/or chips. I recommend breaking a $20 at the cashier at the start of each day so that you always have tip money on hand.
Trust me on this one, tipping the cocktail waitress is the only sure-fire investment you can make in the casino. I deliberately said “investment” rather than “gamble” because it is guaranteed to return cheap/free drinks many times over. If that’s not a dollar well spent, I don’t know what is (especially when you see the exorbitant prices that casino bars charge)! If only I could get the same return on my gambling…
Playing at the Bar
Playing Bartop Video Poker is the fastest way to get free drinks, since you can gamble at the bar while reaping the benefits of close proximity to a bartender. This is an especially valuable tip if you like draft beers and/or want to relax while people watching or watching a sports game.
If you’re taking advantage of comped drinks while playing at the bar, always insert at least a $20 and play max bet (on quarters) so that the bartender knows to comp you. If they ask you if you’re gambling, say yes. If you do this, it’s implied that the drink will be comped, but you can ask the bartender their comp policy to double check if you’d like.
The bartender will bring you your drink, tell you good luck, and place a receipt in a cup behind your machine. This receipt is only for accounting purposes, and not how much you owe; if you owe money, they will tell you the total. Otherwise, ignore the slip and place your tip in the cup.
Unfortunately, some casinos have implemented lights or ticketing systems to cut down on freeloaders at the bar. Under these systems, the first drink is usually free, but the next ones are dependent on consistent gambling. Fortunately, this only affects play at the bar, so if you aren’t prepared to gamble a decent amount, play a machine on the casino floor and slow-roll to your heart’s content.
In places with a bartop ticketing system (like the Cosmopolitan), the machine will spit out a drink ticket every 15-20 minutes as long as you’re playing regularly. You will then redeem these tickets in exchange for a drink. Be sure to use them, because they often expire within 24 hours. If you’re at your limit, you can always redeem them for bottles of water or spread some good karma and give them to other players. One unexpected positive of drink tickets is that many places will allow you to combine multiple tickets for more premium spirits (like Johnnie Walker Blue) or specialty cocktails (2 tickets will get you specialty cocktails at the Cosmopolitan’s bars). Bartenders will happily explain
In places with a bartop light system (like Caesars Palace), there is a light on the back of the machine that will turn green when you’re betting high enough and frequently enough. If you’re not gambling enough and your light goes red, the bartender may tell you to play more. The threshold varies by property, so ask the bartender if you’re in doubt. I don’t have any experience with light systems since I prefer to gamble at places that are more supportive of my excessive alcohol consumption.
The Wynn and Encore do NOT comp drinks while playing bartop games, so don’t waste your time or money playing there; stick to the floor at these two properties.
Slow-rolling is the best way to minimize your losses and maximize your BAC. A portmanteau of my own creation, it combines slow play with low rolling to game the system for the cheapest drinks possible.
Check out my slow-rolling guide for more on this simple technique!
Drink at the LINQ
The LINQ is my favorite place to rev up my drinking, since they will bring you a comped beer AND a shot of liquor with in same order. I discovered this through a happy accident when my table ordered a table shot of Jack, and I was drinking Bud Light; the cocktail waitress said she can’t serve two liquors, but she can do a beer and liquor.
As far as I know, the LINQ is the only casino that does this; I’ve also tried at Planet Hollywood, Flamingo, and Excalibur with no success.
Keep it Classy
Liquor selection tends to correlate with swankiness. If you’re a connoisseur, it’s worth checking out a classier establishment to see if you can get a marginal upgrade in your selection. The liquor cabinet at fancier casinos (think Cosmopolitan/Cromwell/Wynn/Bellagio) tends to be a bit more varied and premium.
For example, the Cromwell comps Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek… which is a such a good deal, it caused me to miss my departing flight once.