Gambling and drinking go together like white and rice, which is why Vegas casinos serve it 24/7. But did you know that many US casinos ban alcohol?
A US company called Lipsmark has recently received approval to sell a powdered alcohol product, the not-so-ironically named “Palcohol.” It is essentially pure spirit in dry form, coming in rum and vodka varieties which can mix with water to easily make a drinkable solution. Why would anyone want such a product? The most obvious answer seems to be as a way to bring alcohol into places where it is banned.
On first glance, this seems to have little to do with the casino industry. But digging a little deeper, it’s very relevant. Most of us can’t conceive of gambling without drinking. But in reality, many casinos in the US heavily restrict the sweet nectar of intoxication, or ban it altogether.
Vegas and Atlantic City: lands of the 24/7 free liquor party
Most of us think of gambling and drinking as two things that go together, and with good reason. It feels totally natural to have a cocktail while sitting around the blackjack or baccarat table. And media representations usually associate the two; how many times have we seen a tuxedo-clad James Bond enter the casino and ask for a “martini, shaken, not stirred”? Part of the reason we visit land-based rather than online casinos in the US is to enjoy an entertaining night out, and drinking is part of that experience.
In most places doing so is completely kosher. Nevada and Atlantic City casinos serve alcohol without exception. When I was a 21-year old stopping for a night in Vegas I went to the Excalibur not to gamble, but exclusively to enjoy the $2 cocktails. And to make it clear, I only had to pay for the drinks because I wasn’t playing. While I blew money at the bar, my friend was over blowing money at the blackjack table while being served free drinks. Nevada casinos don’t admit anyone under 21, partly to ensure that they don’t serve alcohol to anyone underage. Not only do they serve alcohol, they serve it 24/7, something that you won’t find in many places in the states. Ditto for Atlantic City.
The puritanical Midwest
In accordance with American gambling laws
each state makes its own regulations, so one can observe a lot of diversity in the casino market.
Aside from America’s two primary gambling hubs, in most states casinos serve alcohol but turn off the taps at a certain hour.
• Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos serve free drinks to players 24/7; for non-players, cocktails usually carry a small menu price
• By contrast, many Indian casinos serve alcohol only in the restaurant, or ban it altogether
• In the State of New Mexico it is illegal for a casino to serve alcohol in any form
Ohio legalized commercial casinos in 2010, but not before an amendment was added to prohibit liquor sales after 2:30 AM.
Connecticut’s two Indian casinos stop serving at 1am on weekdays and 2am on weekends, in accordance with state law.
In most Midwestern states, including my home state of Minnesota, Indian casinos are the only place to gamble. And in most of these states, the free cocktails you’ll see in Vegas or Atlantic City aren’t available.
Not only that, it’s illegal for the casino to serve free drinks. It’s not because casinos have a responsibility to protect customers from making rash betting decisions while intoxicated. In most cases it’s because bar and restaurant owners have lobbied to prevent casinos from poaching their business.
Time to break out the Palcohol
Ok, here is where Palcohol finally becomes relevant. Many Indian casinos ban alcohol outright. No free drinks on the casino floor, no drinks served in the restaurant, no casino bar whatsoever. Where can you find an establishment perpetrating such an injustice? In good ol’ Midwestern progressive paternalistic nanny state Minnesota, for one. Grand Casino does not allow alcohol on the presence (Palcohol wasn’t invented yet when I visited the casino in 2009, but if it had been, I would have brought some in!). In 2012 Minnesota’s other casino, Mystic Lake, changed policy to allow alcohol to be sold. But only in the restaurant, and drinks can’t be taken onto the casino floor. In contrast to Nevada and New Jersey, you can enter a casino at the age of 18. This is part of the reason that casinos don’t serve the stuff.
And Minnesota isn’t the only such place. The Navajo Nation of Arizona, which operates the Twin Arrows Casino, also bans alcohol on the premises. The State of New Mexico prohibits each of its casinos from serving alcohol in any form. As long as such places exist, there will be a market for absurd products like Palcohol.