The Casino Liquor Swap: Reading This Might Change the Way You Feel About Las Vegas Forever

When we learned what you’re about to learn, it changed Las Vegas for us, just like that.

For more than a decade, we’ve played in every Las Vegas casino there is. Gambling has been a great source of joy and entertainment, and the free cocktails have played no small part in that.

We have a favorite cocktail, as many people do. Ours is Captain Morgan and diet. When we’re in a casino, we rarely order anything else, and we order it by name. You probably have a go-to liquor brand. Absolut. Jack Daniels. Grey Goose. Ketel One. Belvedere. Bacardi. Crown Royal.

One of the things that makes Las Vegas such a blast is when you gamble, you drink your favorite cocktail free. Or so we thought.

Come to find out, when you’re playing table games or slots in a Las Vegas casino, the brand of liquor you order isn’t the liquor you get.

Welcome to the casino liquor swap.

liquors

If you already knew all this, shame on you for not telling us.

That’s right. When you order a Captain Morgan and diet, there’s often no telling what you’ll actually get. You could get Sailor Jerry (not likely). Or Cruzan. Or Lady Bligh (yes, that exists). Or something called Admiral Nelson. Your cocktail waitress might pass along your order as “Captain and diet,” but casino bartenders treat the order as “rum and diet,” and pour whatever comes out of the gun, typically the cheapest substitute they can use.

Shockingly, a casino has no obligation to tell you what you’re getting, despite the fact the cocktail is going into your body.

When we first learned about this practice, we figured it must just be certain casinos. The more we investigated, the more we realized this practice isn’t the exception, it’s the rule.

In fact, we have yet to find a casino that doesn’t give cheaper versions of popular brands. Most will fess up if asked.

Nevada vodka

You can ask, but you’re not going to get it.

The reason for this practice is fairly obvious.

Using Captain Morgan as an example, serving a cheaper spiced rum can save a casino as much as 70% in liquor costs. That’s a huge savings, especially if you multiply it across multiple liquor brands, drink after drink, day after day to hundreds and thousands of players.

Casinos are probably right in their assumption many players say a brand name when they don’t particularly care which brand they get. “Bacardi and Coke” is often used to mean “rum and Coke.” In such cases, it’s smart for casinos to provide a reasonable, less expensive, knock-off.

But for those of us who care about our particular brand of liquor, this practice is shocking and more than a little disappointing. What’s even more shocking is nobody really talks about it, despite free cocktails being such a time-honored and much-touted part of the Las Vegas casino experience.

So, now that we know it happens, all the time, in casinos across Las Vegas, it’s time to do something about it.

Big Balls

Guess what it takes for a casino to give us a cheap substitute when we’ve ordered our favorite liquor brand.

It’s worth noting there’s one place in a casino where you’re pretty much assured to get the liquor brand you want: The high limit room. There, your level of play presumably offsets the cost of the liquor you order, even when it’s the good stuff.

Other than that, knowledge is about your only defense against the casino liquor swap.

For starters, while casinos may default to a cheap liquor when you’re playing a table game or at a slot machine on the casino floor, they pour what you ask for when you’re at the bar. If you can see the bartender pouring your drink, you’re getting what’s on the bottle label. (Doing otherwise is illegal.) So, one way to get the drink you want is to play video poker at the bar. Make sure you can see the liquor being poured from a bottle! If the hooch comes out of a gun, it could be any brand the casino chooses.

Once a cocktail server is involved, and your drink is being poured at one of the casino’s hidden “service bars,” that’s when things gets a little muddy.

It’s useful to know cocktail servers and bartenders have a shorthand for when a specific brand of liquor has to be used, bypassing the liquor swap. The term is “must-be.” The server will say, “Captain Morgan and diet, must-be Captain.”

You can try asking the cocktail server for a “must-be,” but that’s when you realize everyone knows about the cocktail swap, because the cocktail server is likely to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.” Which is confirmation you’re not getting what you ask for, plain and simple.

A way around this dilemma is a common occurrence we had no idea even existed. When you’re playing at a table game, you can ask the pit boss or floor manager to approve your specific liquor.

Giving the server permission to order a “must-be” cocktail is considered a comp. Who knew?

Captain and diet

We fully admit to being naive, slow or both.

There are other strategies for getting the liquor brand you want, but they tend to meet with little success.

For example, you might try asking for your brand, adding “Could you please make sure it’s Captain Morgan? I have allergies to other kinds.” Hey, it could work. Or not.

Another strategy involves tipping your cocktail server when you order, rather than when you get your cocktail. Again, this is anything but foolproof.

Ultimately, learning about the casino liquor swap might not be all that jarring if you don’t care which kind of vodka or rum you get. We care, and it’s turned our world upside down.

On the bright side, if you’re a beer drinker, you’re cool, assuming you get your favorite beer in a bottle.

Beer bottles

Finally, a benefit resulting from your beer problem.

Knowing what we now know, it’s tough to view Las Vegas casinos in quite the same way. Yes, we can order our favorite drink at the bar and pay for it, but once at a table or machine, we have to visit the bar and get a refill (you can’t purchase a cocktail from a cocktail server) or drink the cheap substitute.

Oh, or we could not drink at all. Which is about as likely as Criss Angel getting a normal haircut.

The only way this practice is could change is if customers, in substantial numbers, let casinos know it’s not cool to provide something we didn’t order and that it’s going to cost them our business. So, essentially, it’s not going to happen.

Do you think it’s a big deal that when you order one thing you get something else, like ordering chocolate chip ice cream and getting mint chocolate chip?

While we understand the business rationale behind the liquor swap, not being able to get the specific liquor brand we love when we gamble has made Las Vegas, well, a little less Las Vegas.

Talk about a buzzkill.

Lion’s Share, World’s Most Famous Slot Machine, Hits for $2.4 Million at MGM Grand

It may not be the biggest jackpot in Las Vegas history, but it’s certainly the most-anticipated.

A slot machine that has entered the lore of Las Vegas, the Lion’s Share slot machine at MGM Grand, has hit for $2.4 million. Which you’d have known already had you taken the time to read this blog post’s headline. Please pay attention.

The jackpot was won on August 22, 2014 by a visitor from New Hampshire, Walter Misco, here with his wife, Linda. Both of whom this Las Vegas blog deeply resents for having won our jackpot, thank you very much.

Lion's Share

We totally Photoshopped this photo. Hey, we can’t be everywhere.

The exact jackpot was $2,400,301 and seventy-something cents. We trust the Miscos will get to keep the lion’s share of that amount, although Uncle Sam will be getting a nice chunk of it, too.

The Lion’s Share jackpot has become the stuff of legend because the slot machine in question is the sole remaining machine of its kind at MGM Grand. Back in the ’90s, 50 custom Lion’s Share machines were rolled out. Forty-nine were eventually removed because they weren’t particularly popular, but that all changed when it got down to one Lion’s Share slot left.

The remaining Lion’s Share machine took so long to pay out it’s biggest jackpot (other, smaller jackpots were won along the way), the casino had to grab parts from other, retired machines just to keep it functioning.

A casino executive estimated the Lion’s Share machine was played five times more than the average slot machine on MGM Grand’s casino floor.

One urban legend about the Lion’s Share machine claimed the winner of the progressive jackpot would also get to keep the machine. (MGM Grand has since tried to dispel that notion, but it’s still a possibility.)

Whatever happens to the last Lion’s Share machine, hearing the jackpot was hit is bittersweet for lovers of Las Vegas.

While we’re happy for the couple who won (or at least pretending to be), and for MGM Grand because this machine was a royal pain the ass to maintain (including having to hand pay every time someone cashed out, no matter the amount), the drama and mystique around this legendary machine will be greatly missed.

SLS Las Vegas: A Look Inside the Strip’s Newest Resort

When the Sahara closed, we felt like we’d lost an old friend. Thankfully, we’re getting a new one: SLS Las Vegas. The Strip’s newest resort opens August 23, 2014 (or more accurately, the evening of August 22, at midnight, complete with fireworks), and we can’t wait to put SLS through her paces. Yes, SLS is a her. Because we said so.

We’ve got a look inside this much-anticipated resort, including a slew of restaurants, nightlife venues and other shiny Vegas newness.

SLS Las Vegas

Just inside the main entrance of SLS. It’s enough to make a Las Vegas blog’s heart sing. Which is weird, given hearts don’t tend to have vocal cords or even mouths.

Here’s the entrance you come through to see that view of the casino.

SLS Las Vegas

Wave “goodbye” to the outdoors. You’re in Las Vegas!

Where should we begin? If you read this blog on a regular basis, you already know that’s a rhetorical question. To the bar!

Before we hit the bar, however, we have to check out the fancy new felt on the table games.

SLS Las Vegas

We would like to roll around naked here, although a pit boss might have an issue with that.

Who cares about how a new car smells? We love us the smell of a new craps table.

Sorry, roulette, we didn’t mean to neglect you.

SLS roulette

The tables aren’t really tilted like this. All the chips would slide off.

Onward to Center Bar, located in the (wait for it) center of the casino.

There are a few video poker machines, but the real eye-popper (not literally, that would be cause for legal action) is the video display over the bar. A still photo really doesn’t do it justice, but we are a blog, not a videographer.

SLS Center Bar

This will be a convenient place to meet friends. Saying, “Meet you at the bar with the big-ass video screen over it” should do the trick.

The casino isn’t sprawling (about 60,000-square-feet), so there’s no risk of getting lost.

Fans of Sahara will feel right at home, as the casino is laid out roughly as it was back in the day.

SLS Las Vegas

This is what our den would look like if we were a computer hacker and we all lived in “The Matrix.”

There are quirky surprises throughout the casino, and the entire hotel, really. Many of them involve monkeys. In other cases, there’s just interesting art.

SLS Las Vegas

This artwork looks like someone took a photo of a firefly using a really long exposure time. By the way, people who grew up in Las Vegas have no idea whatsoever what a firefly is.

We’re not going to leave you in suspense. Here are some of the aforementioned monkeys.

SLS monkeys

Our first SLS progressive awaits.

Easily one of the sexiest parts of the casino is the high limit salon. It’s so pretty, in fact, we’re thinking of learning a marketable skill so we can afford to play there.

SLS Las Vegas

Wait. Marketable skill? That sounds hard. A wealthy relative keeling over sounds much more appealing at this juncture.

But a resort does not live by its casino alone. SLS Las Vegas boasts no fewer than nine dining options. Many small towns in North America do not boast nine dining options. “Let’s take a peek at a couple, already,” you nagged in that certain way you have sometimes.

First up is Cleo.

SLS Las Vegas

We know two things about Cleo. First, it serves Mediterranean food. Second, the woman in that Cleopatra artwork is the supermodel girlfriend of one of the casino’s owners, Sam Nazarian.

We don’t mean to sling restaurant jargon around, but Cleo is distinctive in that is has a big stone thingy. Oh, just look at the photo.

SLS

The cool thing about the restaurants at SLS Las Vegas is they’ve all been successes in other cities, thus avoiding this blog being a guinea pig.

Katsuya is a Japanese restaurant. “Katsuya” in Japanese means, “We are very happy there are things on the menu other than sushi because we are definitely not a sushi person.”

SLS

Katsuya has a bar. And Wagyu beef. So, we’re good.

No time to dawdle.

Next up, there’s an 800 Degrees Pizza. There’s already one at Monte Carlo Las Vegas, but you can never have too many pizza places if you ask us.

SLS Las Vegas

We predict this place is going to make a ton of dough.

There’s also a bigtime steakhouse at SLS, Bazaar Meat. This restaurant is brought to us by José Andrés, a chef so famous, he was given two accent marks in his name, possibly by a Spanish monarch.

SLS

Yes, these adorn Bazaar Meat. We’re 91% sure this kind of meat is not served there.

There’s also Ku Noodle, which we’re fairly sure is a play on the word “canoodle,” but whenever we ask people at the hotel if that’s true, they look at us like we’re nuts.

SLS

We saw a guy practicing noodle-making, old school. Just like at Beijing Noodle No. 9 at Caesars Palace, we’re putting that in the “free entertainment” category.

There are a number of other restaurants, but our hands are starting to cramp up from all this typing, so we’re going to skip to the SLS buffet.

SLS Las Vegas

It feels like a mountain lodge, but with much more belt-loosening.

Rounding out the dining are Umami Burger, the Griddle Cafe and The Perq.

All this exploring is making us parched. Let’s hit the Monkey Bar.

SLS

We’ve heard the name of this bar for weeks now, and only this second remembered “monkey bars” are also a playground thing. Clearly, we should not blog while drunk. Or possibly ever, hand crampwise.

This leads us, somewhat ineptly, to a major component of what is expected to be a major draw for SLS Las Vegas: Nightlife.

SLS

Get your back up off the wall, or whatever people say in nightclubs these days.

SLS Las Vegas has several nightlife venues, including its main Life nightclub (pictured above), Foxtail (sort of another nightclub), the Foxtail Pool Club (more of a daylife thing, but we’re not sure that’s a word, so we’re sticking with nightlife) and Sayers Club (with a focus on live music).

Foxtail

Oh, great. A pool club. Now, we have no choice but to do a sit-up.

Life is a huge nightclub that occupies the space where the Sahara showroom used to be. This is one of three bars inside this new Las Vegas nightlife party spot.

SLS

Tip: The bartenders won’t be able to hear your order, so we recommend learning how to say “rum and Coke” in sign language.

We’re sure there are things we’re forgetting. While not a huge resort, there’s plenty of ground to cover when you visit.

The hotel rooms pretty much look exactly like the renderings, so that’s handled.

In case you wondered, SLS doesn’t have a bingo room, poker room or keno parlor. Those are typically not big money-makers for casinos, and SLS had to try and do a lot with relatively little space.

And, never fear, there are plenty of nods to the Sahara throughout SLS. That’s a class move in our book.

SLS Las Vegas

Gone but not forgotten.

Another item we can’t share until SLS opens is the Philippe Starck-designed statue in the hotel’s valet area. We guarantee this will get people talking, and we look forward to hearing what you think when it’s unveiled.

SLS Las Vegas

No, it’s not being fumigated. It’s called building suspense!

Oh, crap, we almost forgot the scratch-and-sniff wall.

SLS

It’s more of a sniff thing than a scratch thing, but do what you need to do.

Special thanks to the folks at SLS Las Vegas for their hospitality and patience with all our photo-taking, especially our significant other who personally gave us our tour (she does the social media for SLS) and only sighed 12-15 times when we kept asking if the liquor guns at the hotel bars were operating yet.

SLS Las Vegas is shaking things up at the north end of The Strip, and is a great beginning to what is shaping up to be a true revitalization of the area. Coming up are a City of Rock open-air concert venue (2015), the Asian-themed Resorts World hotel (2016) and another project slated for the former site of the Frontier (2018).

SLS

SLS stands for “Style, Luxury and Service.” In reality, though, Sam Nazarian saw a Mercedes Benz SLS and just liked how the SLS looked.

Find out more about SLS Las Vegas at its official site.

Enjoy a few more photos in our exclusive gallery, and come back and share your thoughts if you check out SLS Las Vegas. You’ll find us at the bar with the big-ass video screen over it. Told you that would end up being a thing.

Inside SLS Las Vegas

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[img src=http://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/inside-sls-las-vegas/thumbs/thumbs_sls_las_vegas72.jpg]1000
[img src=http://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/inside-sls-las-vegas/thumbs/thumbs_sls_las_vegas73.jpg]950
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[img src=http://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/inside-sls-las-vegas/thumbs/thumbs_sls_las_vegas9.jpg]910
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[img src=http://vitalvegas.com/wp-content/flagallery/inside-sls-las-vegas/thumbs/thumbs_sls_las_vegas76.jpg]890

 

Westgate Las Vegas Gets a New Erection, Signwise

The Westgate Las Vegas Hotel has installed its new sign, replacing the former LVH sign with a giant new erection.

Westgate

LVH was formerly the Las Vegas Hilton, the house that Elvis built. Even if he didn’t build it, he certainly paid for a lot of drywall and stucco.

Westgate, of course, is the timeshare company that previously owned PH Towers Westgate. The lettering in these photos was actually lifted from that bankrupt timeshare project at Planet Hollywood. (Vegas is all about recycling and sustainability. As well as saving a few bucks whenever possible.)

Westgate

All right. This isn’t really a “new erection,” per se. We just like having an excuse to say “new.”

Westgate Las Vegas remains virtually unchanged from LVH, and even the casino loyalty club is the same as under the previous ownership.

Changes are expected in time, though. Westgate will be part hotel, part timeshare (you know, the annoying part).

Westgate

That sign is iconic, no matter whose name is on it.

A couple of the LVH letters are still on-site, but we expect they’ll be removed soon. Here’s a look at some of the Vegas-sized letters.

We wish Westgate all the luck in the world! LVH was always a little boring, but now, with the addition of a timeshare component, well, we’re tingling with anticipation at never returning again unless Elvis is found alive and starts doing Klingon impressions in the hotel’s old Star Trek: The Experience space. And even then we’re a little iffy.

Las Vegas Lounge Fixture Cook E. Jarr Ends Run at Harrah’s

Word has it longtime Las Vegas lounge performer Cook E. Jarr will no longer perform at Harrah’s Las Vegas. His last performance will be August 27, 2014.

The Las Vegas throwback has entertained thousands of Sin City visitors with his tried-and-true cover songs, kitschy persona and distinctive hairstyle.

Cook E. Jarr

It’s real, by the way.

Prior to his multi-year engagement with Harrah’s, Cook E. Jarr performed at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, which is now Cromwell Las Vegas.

Jarr began his Vegas career on June 2, 1982. He first performed what was supposed to be a two-week gig at the Sands.

Jarr hasn’t said where he might turn up next, nor has he said why he’ll no longer be performing at Harrah’s.

Cook E. Jarr has seen it all and done it all in Las Vegas, and we hope he’ll find a new home for his much-beloved show soon.