Despite $300k jackpot at Vegas airport, here’s why you should stick to slots on The Strip

Mar 3, 2021

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One lucky traveler punctuated the end of her Las Vegas vacation by scoring a $302,334.86 windfall from a Wheel of Fortune slot machine at the B concourse of McCarran International Airport (LAS). The woman, identified as Megan of Flower Mound, Texas in a tweet from McCarran’s official Twitter account, was on her way back to Texas when she sat down and tried her luck at one of the 1,400 slot machines inside the airport (only 500 are currently operating due to COVID-19 restrictions). Video of her jubilant reaction was shared on Twitter.

Making the win even more noteworthy is that Vegas airport slot machines and video poker games, while a popular way to kill time before boarding your flight, are considered sucker bets by some gamblers. “Airport paybacks are generally far worse than any Strip casino, “ says John Mehaffey, owner of the gambling industry site, VegasAdvantage.com.

Indeed, most gamblers will tell you to save your money for the Strip.

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A 2001 survey by Michael Shackleford, a gambling analyst known as the “Wizard of Odds,” showed slots at McCarran paid out as much as 8% less than “return to player” (RTP) casinos on the Strip. That’s a notable difference in RTP in the slot machine business. One reason for that is that airport slot machines have what industry observers call “a captive audience.”

Casino operators try to strike a balance between earning a profit and having the customer leave happy, meaning they spent a good amount of time at the machine. But since airport slots are almost exclusively played by travelers, and not regular customers, operators perhaps don’t feel the same urgency to find that “balance.”

Related: Check out this cool time-lapse video of the Las Vegas airport

It’s important to point out that since Wheel of Fortune slots offer what’s called a “progressive jackpot,” all WoF machines in the state of Nevada are linked. That means when a jackpot is hit, the amount is reset to the starting amount on all machines. “Citywide progressive [slots] probably have the same RTP at the airport as at a casino, since that jackpot is networked across [the Vegas] market,” adds Mehaffey.

Related: McCarran Airport could soon have a new name

It should be noted, to hit the jackpot, you have to play Max Bet credits. Go big or go home, as they say. Megan from Texas did, and she won. But her win isn’t even close to the biggest payout ever from a McCarran airport slot machine. The biggest? A $3.96 million jackpot back in 2005. Last July, a visitor from California went home with an $873,000 score.

McCarran International is one of only two U.S. airports with slot machines. Reno-Tahoe International Airport is the other. Revenue from the slot machines at both airports earned nearly $40 million in revenue in 2018.

Related: 9 ways Las Vegas is different in the age of coronavirus

The other thing to keep in mind about gambling at the airport is that if you are one of those lucky people who get a jackpot, you may miss your flight because of the paperwork involved in claiming your prize.

There was an entertaining thread on this on Flyertalk from back in 2014. Folks in that forum suggest, the winnings would need to be verified by the slot manufacturer for the specific machine involved which could take a while. We’d say, it’s worth missing your flight for a jackpot!

The other thing to keep in mind, is that many gamblers say is that you are generally better off skipping slots altogether and focusing on card games.

Featured image by George Rose/Getty Images.

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