When Machines & Software Replace Bartenders

Comp

Image Source: Eater Vegas

It isn’t a topic we discuss very often but after 2 casinos in Las Vegas caused a flurry of discussion on several websites – including TripAdvisor – we felt the need to address gaming bars and the slowly changing face of comps. While it’s true that only Louisiana and Nevada permit casino-style gambling statewide, there are some states where that style of gambling is legal in specific geographic areas within their borders. For example, a Harrah’s casino property (owned by Caesars Entertainment, which owns over 50 casinos and hotels and 7 golf courses) is located in Joliet, Illinois, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, is home to multiple gaming groups, such as Caesars and Golden Nugget.

But for now, back to Vegas.

Should you plan on attend the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show [Editor’s note: You should, and if you enter the code SAVE30BARNEWS you’ll receive $30 off your pass] and visit the Lobby Bar of The Mirage or the Race and Sports Book Bar at Caesars Palace, you’ll find that the revered institution of the comped drink has changed, drastically. The regulation of the sacred custom of comp drinks for gamblers has been taken out of the hands of bartenders; now variables, algorithms, programmers and machines make the decision of who deserves a comp, and when.

Hit the Lobby Bar at The Mirage, put $20 into a machine, and the bartender will comp your first drink. After you receive your first drink you’ll have to earn the others, and as of yet, there is no specific comp drink formula that has been leaked to the public. The amount of money you put into play, level at which you play (pennies, quarters, etc.), max bet, duration of play… All of those very likely factor into the decision, a decision that is no longer being made by the human making and serving your drinks: the bartender. Instead, the machine you’re playing prints a voucher (good for 24 hours) once you’ve satisfied its pre-programmed requirements. According to comments on websites and murmurs from gamblers on The Strip, taking a break to do so much as check your phone or chat with the human next to you is factored into The Mirage’s comp system. You will be punished with delayed comps.

And then there’s the new system at the Race and Sports Book Bar at Caesars Palace.

Take a seat at a video poker machine at this particular bar, put $20 in, and a small blue light attached to the back of the machine illuminates. According to gamblers, that blue light doesn’t earn you a comp drink. You’ll have to wait for a small green light on the back of the machine to activate, letting the bartenders know that you’re worthy of your comp. And according to a conversation at TripAdvisor, the green lights don’t simply stay lit until you’ve received your earned comp. The green lights can, apparently, time out, so if yours goes out without a bartender noticing it, your comp is gone. I suppose you can liken the lights themselves to an arcade game: Insert coins to activate the Blue Light so you can battle the Red Light boss in order to earn the Green Light power-up. But, again, if nobody behind the bar notices the light, well, sorry but your princess is another castle.

These comp system “tests” carry with them far-reaching implications. It’s important to remember that this is not a Las Vegas-specific issue: the two properties at which these comp systems are being tested are owned by groups that operate casinos in other states, not just Nevada. Free drinks aren’t under fire here, hospitality as a whole is being threatened. How high, do you think, can the morale be among the bar staff at these locations? Their judgment and authority to comp deserving guests – and therefore their ability to engage guests – has been unceremoniously taken away. How happy do you think guests who have come to expect a specific level of treatment are with this new system, and who do you think it is who’s receiving the brunt of their discontent? Yes, at the end of the day the bar business is a business but pinching pennies so hard that Lincoln turns over in his grave and treating bartenders as nothing more than order fillers is one thing: bad business.