How slot machines help airports with their bottom line

Oct 19, 2019

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One time as I traveled through Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport (LAS), I had time to kill and played a slot machine as I waited for my flight. A lucky pull netted me a $500 jackpot. That was a wonderful airport visit.

Photo by Ronda Churchill for McCarran International Airport
(Photo by Ronda Churchill for McCarran International Airport.)

You can’t help but hear the cacophony of slot machines in the terminals at McCarran and Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO). But did you know that the two airports rake in almost $40 million combined in revenue from those one-armed bandits?

McCarran’s current slots operator, Michael J. Gaughan Airport Slot Concession Inc., has been in place since 1985. It operates 1,450 slot machines in both pre- and post-security areas. In 2018, the airport made $36 million in revenue. Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) partnered with International Gaming Technology, PLC, which has overseen the slots since 1993. The airport has 240 slot machines that bring in $1.1 million a year.

In 2017, airport revenue around the world reached $172.2 billion — 55.8% of it was aeronautical, 39.9% non-aeronautical and 4.3% nonoperating, according to the industry trade group Airports Council International. Both airports say things such as slot machines help keep operating costs low for airlines and fares cheaper for passengers.

Photo courtesy of Reno-Tahoe International Airport
(Photo courtesy of Reno-Tahoe International Airport.)

McCarran doesn’t keep numbers on how many travelers use the slot machines every year, nor do they track average playing times. But Reno Airport administrators guess that between 150,000 and 200,000 passengers a month pass through. This means between 300 and 400 passengers per hour have the chance to play the slot machines.

On average, the typical Reno-Tahoe passenger arrives at the airport around 90 minutes before their flight. By the time they check in, drop off their bags, go through security, make purchases and get to their gate, the airport estimates they are playing the slot machines for an average of 20 minutes before departure.

The Wheel of Fortune slot machines (the one I won on) is by far the most popular with travelers at both airports.

Photo courtesy of Reno-Tahoe International Airport
(Photo courtesy of Reno-Tahoe International Airport.)

Both airports have also have had big jackpot winners. In January 2005, McCarran had a person win nearly $4 million on a 25-cent Wheel of Fortune slot machine. Five years later, Reno-Tahoe had someone win a $10.4 million jackpot on a Megabucks progressive slot machine. The passenger happened to be in town to play in the U.S. Bowling Congress Tournament.

For McCarran, travelers enjoy the lights and sounds of the slot machines. They create an authentic sense of place and allow passengers to either begin their Vegas vacation the moment they land or keep the fun going until the last possible moment. For Reno-Tahoe, casino players about to leave see the airport’s slots as the last opportunity to get lucky.

Featured image by Benét J. Wilson

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