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.

Substitute drinks sign

Kudos to the only casino we’ve found in Vegas that’s willing to put their policy in writing. Doesn’t make it right, but at least it’s honest.

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.

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  • skeptic555

    But if you have been ordering that specific drink for years – and drinking that drink, as delivered, for years, but yet just discovered this fact…. well, doesn’t that tell you a little something about the ability to tell one rum from another?

    • Agreed. To be honest, we knew something was wrong and often sent the drinks back. We thought it was either the waitress was screwing up the order, didn’t hear us, or there was something funky about the diet soda. We never imagined casinos would give us something to drink that we didn’t order. It was a blind spot, which is why we’re so shaken to find out everyone does this.

      • Dal Sayers

        Hey my dad’s b

  • Lawrence Smith

    I kind of suspected that when I asked for a rum and coke I got a generic brand from one of those guns – a ‘well drink’. Maybe not at Bellagio but I was never bothered or whether I got coca-cola or pepsi. I usually bring home a generic brand of rum home with me from the Orleans or Goldcoast. Then I add supermarket coke………..

    • There are probably some casinos that don’t do this as standard practice, we just haven’t found or confirmed any. Ultimately, this only matters to die-hards of a given brand.

  • Brian Woz

    Good to know. Thanks for the intel. I do most of my drinking in the Caesars diamond lounge so at least in there I know I’m getting the good stuff.

    • Good idea. Their bar is out in the open, so you can see the pours. Still, watch for the gun. You never know what might be in the casino’s liquor “tree.”

  • Michael James

    @skeptic555:disqus – I was going to say the exact same thing, but you beat me to it.

    Its also why I drink bottled bear when I gamble…

    • That seems to be the safest bet. Even at the bar they may have a mandate to use the gun whenever they can. It’s big bucks involved.

    • Jonathan M Bell

      Doesn’t the bear object?

  • Steven Brown

    For many years my go-to drink while gambling was vodka tonic or a gin & tonic. When it comes to those spirits, I really don’t have a preferred brand so the only time I might get irked would be getting one that was obviously watered down. In recent years I’ve shifted over to Jack & gingers but I’m playing at the bar so I know I’m getting Jack & ginger ale and not a lesser whiskey & ginger ale.

  • Tahoejoe

    Obviously customers cannot tell the difference or it would have been reported sooner. So enjoy LV and your free drink. I’m sure very few people have said, “hey, this isn’t Captain Morgan” LOL.

  • Jonathan M Bell

    My big complaint is I can’t get Dr Pepper, much less Diet Dr Pepper even if I’m willing to pay for it. Of course, I’m a bit of a freak who doesn’t like getting my vices muddled, so I never drink when I’m gambling.

    • TheSameLames

      I know this is an old post, but it drives my husband nuts. He doesn’t drink, but he LOVES Dr. Pepper…and it’s damn near impossible to find in casinos and restaurants in Las Vegas!!

  • Las Vegas Advisor

    The good news, bro, is that you didn’t notice for the past decade LMAO. Just un-know the contents of this post 😉 To the Dr Pepper person beneath me (I speak only in terms of “reply” order), we did the whole Dr Pepper thing Question of the Day many moons ago and short answer is, you can’t get Dr P at a single casino bar in Vegas: http://bit.ly/1pIQNub <— check it out for myriad sources of Mr Pibb, however 😉

  • Adam Wishne

    The only place I see cocktails being made from a gun regularly are the Caesar properties. Big shock!

    • Richard Eckebrecht

      The Plaza downtown also

  • SparkySixx

    I ve pretty much known this for 25-30 years.
    I like Dewar & soda. Scotch drinkers can tell the difference . Some cocktail servers even told me, we don’t have that brand.
    Beer too, guaranteed if you get beer in a glass, it’s not Bud, it’s generic brew.
    But, you’re basically getting the drink for free!
    Don’t complain. You want brand name, go to the bar & pay for it.

    • Yeah, we’ve been living in a dream world. We always thought the waitress was getting it wrong or the soda accounted for the odd taste. Disappointing, but not too surprising, except to us, apparently.

  • Gal XE Questr

    I’m kind of surprised by this fuss because I always assumed free drinks meant generic. But what I hate is weak drinks. I stopped ordering White Russians because they’re terrible with too little or no vodka in them. I complained recently at the Triple 7 Brew Pub and they first explained that’s how it comes out of the gun. They they offered to make it correctly, but I already felt ripped off by then. And that was at a bar, not floor service.

  • I tend to tip the servers much better than most when I play and haven’t seemed to run into the “rock gut” substitution problem very often.

  • wanker751

    I usually order Makers and Coke. Depends what CET property you are at if they have it or not. This past July at Flamingo I noticed they charge an upgrade for Mark (and others) I wonder if this is practiced with these drinks as well?? Personally I hate what CET has done to the “Vegas experience”.

    Lucky Bourbon have such a unique flavor I can usually tell between brands.

    On a side note I just stumbled upon your site and find it fascinating.

    • Scott Roeben

      Come to find out, the ones that charge for premium brands are being straightforward, which we’re learning to appreciate more each day. Thanks for the kind words, assuming you mean “fascinating” as a compliment.

  • Benster

    Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. As long as it tastes good, i won’t complain about brands.

    • That’s the healthiest attitude to have. It’s the brand loyalists who are the most scrod.

  • Jonesy55

    Guess there’s something to be said for drinking bottled beer.