Video Poker can be an important part of a Las Vegas vacation. There’s especially a good chance that you’ll play video poker if you enjoy hanging out at a casino bar and receiving complimentary drinks. It used to be that you could play video poker at any denomination at any speed and receive a “free” drink. That’s no longer the case at most Las Vegas casinos.

Drink Monitoring At Video Poker Bars

A few years ago, some casinos started implementing drink monitoring systems in the video poker machines at the bars. These systems track how much a guest is playing per hand and at what speed.
If you’re playing quickly with enough money per hand the complimentary drinks will still flow. If you slow down or only play a single credit (or 3) you won’t be offered a drink unless you pay for it.
This new system isn’t a big deal if you’re playing alone. You simply just have to play a minimum of $1 per hand at a normal pace. It’s a bit more difficult to keep up the pace when chatting with friends and enjoying the drink.
I’ve certainly decided to just pay for drinks after realizing I couldn’t keep up the pace to qualify for a complimentary drink. I also stopped playing video poker at those times. Paying for a drink is sometimes better value than losing money quickly on a game with subpar paytables at casinos on the Vegas Strip.
Not every casino bar uses a drink monitoring system. Most MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment bars use a system. So does the Cosmopolitan. These casinos make up the majority of properties on the Vegas Strip.
Most of the casino bars off the Vegas Strip (including downtown) don’t use a drink monitoring system. This is another reason to consider staying off the Vegas Strip.

Maximizing Video Poker

There can be serious cost involved in obtaining complimentary drinks at casino bars. These “free” drinks aren’t quite free since the casino always has the advantage based on the paytables on the machines.
You can no longer play 25 cent hands. The typical minimum to obtain a complimentary drink at many Vegas Strip casino bars is $1 per hand. Additionally, you can’t slow play these systems. There’s no more waiting around until the bartender walks over to makes sure you’re playing for the drinks. Steady play is the key to obtaining cocktails with drink monitoring systems.
Most bars offer in a casino offer the worst paytables for video poker in the casino. The worse the paytable, the larger the house edge is for the casino. The larger the advantage is for the casino they less milage your dollar will have when playing video poker. This is less than optimal when you’re trying to enjoy a few drinks at the bar.
I won’t bore you with the specifics on becoming a great video poker player. Finding the best paytables, understanding the difference, and playing with perfect strategy are all important. Here are a few resources:
Find the best machines: vpFree2 is a great resource to find the best video poker games in each casino. Again, the bars often have video poker games with the lowest return in the casino. This will minimize how much you’ll be able to spend on a limited budget. Most importantly, this resource should have you find the best bars to play video poker.
Understanding pay tables: This return calculator will tell you the house edge for specific games. This is useful and here’s an example of how – If a game has a 4% house edge, the casino will keep $4 of every $100 played (on average). If the game has a 1.5% house edge, the casino will only keep $1.50 of every $100 played. This is a difference of $2.50 or 2 extra hands per $100 played. Over time the game with a better paytable will allow you to play more, which will help you earn more complimentary drinks.
Playing with the best strategy: The house edge is based on playing with perfect strategy. Any mistakes playing video poker increase the advantage in favor of the casino. Wizard of Odds is a great resource to read about strategy. Practicing helps even more. There are plenty of video poker training games online. I practice on an old app while watching sports. Perfect practice makes perfect which helps keep the best house edge intact and should bring more complimentary drinks.

Great Video Poker Bars

I’m a mixed bag when it comes to video poker bars. I prefer to play the best available game if possible. There are also times where I just want the best drinks. These two don’t always mix so I play at certain casinos depending on my mood.
The Red Rock sportsbook bar has 8/5 Bonus Poker is probably the best game I play. The 99.17% return is great and I can play with almost perfect strategy. The Gold Coast, Orleans, and Palace Station might have some decent bartop video poker games near the Vegas Strip.
The View Bar at The D is probably my favorite bar in downtown Las Vegas. The vibe is chill, the paytables are good, and the drinks flow. Four Queens and Main Street Station might have better games but the more fun environment is more important to me when I’m hanging downtown.
My favorite bartop video poker on the Vegas Strip – and it’s not even close – is Chandelier Bar at the Cosmopolitan. The paytables suck and they use a drink monitoring system. However, the bar is gorgeous, the atmosphere is fun, and the Chandelier Bar makes better complimentary drinks than any other video poker bar in Las Vegas.
The Cosmopolitan uses a ticket system for complimentary drinks. There are still plenty of single ticket options available. The fancy, signature cocktails and some premium spirits are two drink tickets. Beer drinkers looking to maximize the buzz might want to choose an Elysian Space Dust. The 8.2% ABV has more than 50% more than a Budweiser.

Learning Video Poker

I started to get serious about video poker when I saw a friend earning better rewards than I did playing craps and blackjack. Unlike slot machines, there’s a little skill involved. While I like the bells and whistles of slots, I typically like to keep my mind engaged while gambling.
I downloaded the WinPoker iPhone app for $10 to practice video poker during my free time. I’ve improved from about 80% accuracy for Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker to about 95-98%. The practice has improved my gameplay so much that I’ve probably made 1000x what I paid for the app.
Sure, winning is fun. Being able to share that knowledge with friends is a bonus. Together my friends and I have enjoyed more fun for the money playing video poker at bars.


Marc Meltzer covers Las Vegas, gaming and men’s lifestyle for various outlets. Check out his blog at Edge Vegas.
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