VEGAS MYTHS BUSTED: Pedestrian Bridge Water Peddlers Refill Bottles

Posted on: January 29, 2024, 08:16h. 

Last updated on: February 3, 2024, 01:01h.

A new ordinance that outlaws stopping on the Las Vegas Strip’s pedestrian bridges has thrust into the spotlight the people who were already doing business there illegally. Indeed, the role that a brigade of unlicensed bottled water peddlers played in triggering this ordinance is probably not insignificant, as’s Vital Vegas blogger Scott Roeben recently argued.

An illegal vendor sells three water bottles
An illegal vendor sells three water bottles (note their identical labels and caps) to a woman on a Las Vegas pedestrian bridge. (Image: KLAS-TV/Las Vegas)

These vendors sell water for anywhere from $1-$5 per bottle during the summer months to visitors who didn’t plan properly because they’re on vacation.

But are these vendors doing something worse? According to a persistent rumor spread by tourist websites, they routinely collect empty bottles from trash cans and refill them with tap water.

Myth Interpreted

The earliest version of this warning we could find came from a legitimate source. In 2010, late Las Vegas police sergeant Mike Ford told KLAS-TV/Las Vegas that unhoused people will “take water bottles out of the trash can, fill them up with water from an unknown source — could be a tap, could be anywhere — then put them in a cooler and sell them for $2.

Tourists have no idea where the bottles came from, and when they open them, somebody has already drank from them before.”

A character from the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire superglues the cap back onto a used water bottle. (Image: Warner Independent Pictures)

But wouldn’t everyone notice if those clicks didn’t accompany the opening of the bottle caps?

The 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire has that part covered.

In it, the character Salim can be seen supergluing a cap onto a water bottle he took from the trash and filled with tap water.

A Tripadvisor user from Roanoke, Va. apparently didn’t see the movie, but heard the same story from an even more reliable source.

“I actually heard it from two people, the first being the Elvis impersonator on the Show Bus of the Stars tour,” the user posted in 2012.

“Elvis said they take empty bottles from trash cans and fill them up with tap water, supergluing the tops so you think you are getting a new bottle.”

Doesn’t Hold Water

Sorry, Elvis, but the nearest Walmart to the Strip currently sells a 35-pack of 16.9-ounce bottles of Pure Life purified water for $7, including tax.

That’s an outlay of 20 cents per bottle.

This Las Vegas water peddler has opted for the convenience of an oversized cooler with wheels — otherwise known as a garbage bin. (Image:

What’s more likely — that someone spent hours recycle bin-diving to collect perfectly uncrushed empty bottles of water from only a single brand, along with color-matched caps, and then refilled each bottle, or that they’re OK with sacrificing 20 cents profit per bottle to earn $28-$168 for every $7 they spend at Walmart?

While there is no vouching for the honesty of people who choose to break the law to earn an income, we’ve never heard of a single vendor being caught doing this. Ever. And that’s probably because doing so would be a preposterous waste of their time.

Oh, and superglue? Not only couldn’t it reproduce those opening clicks, but it would also leave a telltale odor behind.

Water Over the Bridge

While what Las Vegas water vendors do is illegal, they’re not begging you for money. They’re not harassing you for a bigger tip after posing with you in their superhero or showgirl costume for a selfie. And they’re not scamming you with a confidence game like three-card monte.

They’re providing a service that has probably already saved many lives. As concluded by a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, dehydration increases the risk of heart attack at any given moment by 46% in men and 59% in women.

Illegal vendors wouldn’t be illegally vending if Clark County, the Strip’s governing body, provided more opportunities along the Strip for dehydrated tourists to hydrate in legal, affordable, and sanitary ways.

And sorry, we don’t consider $7 resort gift shop water affordable or water fountains that people shove parts of into their mouths to be sanitary.

So the next time you feel parched while walking the Strip in 115-degree heat — especially after you’ve had a couple of drinks of a more potent and dehydrating variety — it’s perfectly OK to purchase a cold bottle from an unlicensed stranger. At least it’s a lot less risky than walking a mile and a half farther in your condition.

That is if you can find a water peddler who hasn’t been hauled off to jail by the time you get here.

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