Atlantic City Casino Bartenders, Cocktail Servers Explain The Deal About “Free Drinks”

Written By David Danzis on October 8, 2023
image of gamblers next to their drinks sat a casino, which many wonder: Are alcoholic beverages really free at Atlantic City casinos?

Editor’s note: The names of these Atlantic City casino employees were changed to protect their identities since they had not received prior approval to speak with the media.

One of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of casinos is the free alcoholic beverage policy. Scroll any casino-related Facebook page and a question about free booze is a sure bet to appear before too long.

Conventional wisdom says drinking at casinos in Atlantic City or Las Vegas is on the house.

Well, like most generally accepted beliefs, this one is not entirely accurate.

Call it semantics or splitting hairs, but the fact of the matter is that drinks are not actually free at Atlantic City casinos. One way or another, every dirty martini, imported beer or bourbon on the rocks served on the gambling floor is paid for.

‘Something for nothing’ a terrible business practice

Atlantic City wasn’t built on winners (apologies to Vegas for stealing that line). But it wasn’t built on giving stuff away either. The casinos, rightfully, expect a little something in return.

“Gamblers get free drinks,” says Ashley, who has been a cocktail server in Atlantic City casinos for nearly two decades. “That’s the whole point, right? The casino isn’t going to give you something for nothing.”

Most casinos have adopted technology that takes the guesswork out of a cocktail server’s job description. Nearly all modern slot machines have a visual cue (usually lights) that tells a server the player has “spent enough” to warrant a complimentary beverage.

“We can tell if you’re playing or not, no matter what the lights tell us,” says Rachel, who works at multiple casinos. “I’ll still serve someone if I know they’re going to play and I don’t see the light.”

Drink service gamechanger for Atlantic City casinos

A new type of tech hit the floors of Atlantic City casinos a little over a decade ago. It was a literal gamechanger.

Slot players can now order drinks directly from the digital displays on their machines. This allows servers to keep track of the number of drinks and the time between drinks being served.

“I’ve worked in places that won’t serve more than two drinks per hour. People figure out ways around it, but that’s usually the policy,” Ashley says.

Tony does not care how many IG followers you have

New Jersey law allows Atlantic City casinos to offer complimentary alcoholic beverages to guests. And, in the strictest sense of the word “complimentary,” they do.

But, no one should expect to belly up to casino bar and get a free cocktail because of their sparkling personality or an Instagram-worthy outfit.

Tony, a bartender at one of the Boardwalk casinos, says “As long as you’re playing, I don’t have to charge you for most drinks.”

“But it’s not like anyone can just walk up here and get shots of Patron for free.”

Orwellian principle of ‘some are more equal than others’ at play

Now, there is one group of casino customers who are in a class of their own when it comes to comp drinks — VIPs.

Every casino has a player’s lounge that caters to gamblers of a certain rewards card tier. Depending on the card tier, boozey drinks at the members-only bar may be comped.

The higher the card tier, the more exclusive the player’s lounge. And that’s where the good stuff is served.

Tony says he spent several years working in a high-roller lounge at one of the former Trump casinos in the late-1990s. It was not uncommon for Tony to empty several bottles of top-shelf liquor or vintage vino per night for the casino’s coveted clientele.

“A lot of those folks didn’t even carry cash. But I got tipped a lot in green ($25) and black ($100) chips.”

Photo by Wayne Parry / AP Photo
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David Danzis

David Danzis is the lead writer for PlayNJ. He is a New Jersey native and honors graduate of Rutgers University. As a newspaper reporter for the New Jersey Herald and Press of Atlantic City, David earned statewide awards for his coverage of politics, government, education, sports, and business. Today, he is PlayNJ’s Atlantic City “insider” and gaming industry expert on casinos, sports betting, and online gambling. David lives in Atlantic County, NJ with his wife and two children.

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