A Casino Request: Self-Service Soda, Water and Coffee

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non-alcoholic beverage

I remember the first time I encountered a casino with self-service soda options. It was my mom’s favorite casino in New Mexico, and I went around a corner near one end of the casino and saw it.

Having spent my time in casinos where you had to look around or wait however long for a cocktail server to come through, it was a delightful thing to find.

Cocktail servers have long been the way to get beverages on a casino floor. Some innovation has rolled out verrrrrry slowly around this concept, such as the ability to order a drink on the screen here and there. 

For the most part, it’s hope they walk by your machine without walking so fast you can’t get their attention because their back is already to you and they’re halfway down the next aisle by the time you hear them.

With liquor laws varying by state as to whether casinos can offer alcoholic beverages, whether they can be comped for players and what hours they can be served, there’s some logic to needing the servers. But for those of us who drink non-alcoholic beverages at the casino like water, soda, coffee or tea, it can be a bit of a bummer when the cocktail service is sparse or has uneven gaps.

So when I do encounter a casino where there’s self service beverages, I’m a bit happier and relieved that when I’m thirsty, I can walk right over and set myself up for a free soda. While some of these offerings were curtailed (and understandably so) during the height of the pandemic, most have brought them back.

Do you like self-service non-alcoholic beverage stations?

I’m not alone either – when we surveyed players at Brian Christopher’s YouTube channel, a whopping 4 out of 5 players were all for easier access by letting players have access to the stations. Another 10 percent were fine with it for non-alcoholic drinks.

The casino I had mentioned upfront, Isleta, no longer has a self-service station, but they cleverly found another approach – they had a walk-up station where you can get the beverages, and an employee serves them for you. This avoids having to look around and wait for a server, while giving Isleta some control over the beverage stations. I didn’t mind this approach either (once I understood that it existed) – the convenience factor remains.

Here in California, where we’re based, the casinos have cocktail servers but also push carts with the non-alcoholic beverages. At Yaamava and Agua Caliente, for instance, I see the carts regularly. They each handle things a bit differently with the carts, but the idea is the same – for non-alcoholic beverages it adds an additional opportunity for players to get those comp (and simpler to prepare) drinks.

The biggest challenge with them is the carts can stall out at a single location for awhile, as players find them and form a line. So they can sometimes be hard to locate if they’re in some random corner. 

The carts are a step in the right direction, but known and clearly marked self-service stations would be more helpful, or, if you still want staff involved to ensure the beverages aren’t being hoarded, set up fixed stations where players know they are so they can find the beverages easily.

Some casinos get really obsessed with the prove you’re playing aspect of things to get even comped sodas, but there’s a point where this cost management mindset goes a bit too far. A soda is not an expensive item to provide, nor is coffee or water. Yes, you can mandate someone play video poker until a light turns green at the bar for a Diet Coke, but that’s not always a player friendly approach.

I still remember the first time I was at Mohegan Sun and was in one of their live music bars and asked for water. They pulled out the same water and those waters were free, just like on the casino floor. 

Recently when I was at Tropicana Laughlin and walked up to the bar to ask for water, I was told they would need to charge me something like $4 each – for the same 10 oz bottle they give out to slots players for free – if I wanted bottles of water. Fortunately he offered me glasses of ice water from the tap, but that was awkward carrying back to a friend who was stuck on the phone with the hotel’s customer service people due to a snafu – talk about stacking up bad customer experiences!

That experience led to a bad taste in my mouth and felt short-sighted. My friends and I ultimately spent more time playing at other casinos as a result of the experience than we would have otherwise.

Some simple tweaks to the existing model can be beneficial for both casinos (who can get players back to playing faster by resolving their needs faster) and player (not so parched, can focus on playing and enjoying the visit). So, a modest proposal: Please make it easier to find and procure non-alcoholic drinks.

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8 Replies to “A Casino Request: Self-Service Soda, Water and Coffee”

  • Henry Fung says:

    Definitely agree with this. Yaamava will happily comp juices in high limit, and often has OJ and diet/regular soda in a tray in the cart, but will ask for status to get anything but water at a bar. Very short sighted in my opinion. The new Fontainebleau in Vegas has water filling stations like the kinds you find in airports, not the same thing as what you describe but it should be mandatory for new construction.

    • That’s a really good point I hadn’t thought of Henry – those water filling stations are another simple and manageable option for casinos to offer. It would also get away from all the tiny bottles of water that they would be giving out otherwise. Thank you for that!

  • Mike M says:

    One on the casinos I used to frequent in Arizona used to have 3 self service stations for soda, water, and coffee. They removed all but one, and moved that one into a new Bingo hall. It is nearly impossible to find a cocktail server here. My wife would often ask me to get her a beverage and I typically had to walk the entire casino 2-3 times, to find the beverage cart. It took more than 15 minutes most of the time. As a result, we no longer go to that casino. We instead go to one with 4 beverage dispensers that anyone can use.

  • Lisa says:

    Treasure Island in Minnesota just put back their self serve pop machines. Really nice. I missed them. I drink less alcohol too with the pop so handy.

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      That’s great to hear, Lisa! It certainly makes it easier to get what you need when it’s readily available.

  • Moviela says:

    I like the old days before the IRS forced casino’s to track comps. You were always well attended by servers in the slot area, and if you asked for a drink at a bar and you had a bucket of coins or even dirty coin fingers, you were comped.
    At Yamaha (my new name for San Manuel) you can drop a grand and not get a free drink. I quit going.

    • FlipTheSwitch.com says:

      Hey Moviela – it’s more likely the casinos are responsible for changing up how they comp drinks over time as opposed to the IRS. For various reasons casinos have over the years adjusted rules to try to weed out players that are trying to get comped drinks without playing, but in the process have made it tougher for players as well. Each tweak isn’t a big deal until enough tweaks make it a big deal, if that makes sense. It could be less people working, changing how drinks can be accessed, etc., but each adjustment makes it a little harder and over time it can feel a lot harder to track down a server. It doesn’t help that drinks at various shops have crept upward – in Las Vegas recently we made the mistake of buying a 20 oz soda at a gift shop and it was $6.50!

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