Playing the Slots at the Airport – Yay or Nay?

I’ll never forget my first trip to Las Vegas. When I walked off the ramp into the airport and heard the musical, electronic sound of slot machines, a huge smile crept over my face. I’d never been greeted with that sound at an airport before. Walking through the airport from my gate to baggage claim, I passed clusters of slot machines here and there and found myself in awe. This has to be the most fun airport ever! I thought. I’ve pretty much had that same reaction every trip since. There’s nothing that says “Welcome to Las Vegas” quite like the sight and sound of slot machines.

Welcome to Vegas sign, McCarran Airport

McCarran International Airport

I’m usually in too much of a hurry to get to my hotel when I land to think about lingering in the airport to play them, but on my trip home, it’s a whole other story. I mean, really, picture your typical airport experience. You get to the airport early, as is recommended, and by some miracle, you zip through security quickly. You still have an hour and 45 minutes until your flight. Now what? Read the book you brought with you? But if you read it now, what will you read on the plane?

So you wander through your terminal—slowly—in and out of each shop that’s trying to sell you last-minute souvenirs, snacks, books and magazines. That takes about 15 minutes. Now what? Maybe grab a meal at one of the restaurants, assuming you haven’t already eaten. But at McCarran International Airport, you can extend your Vegas vacation right up until the minute you board your plane by playing the slot machines.

I’ll bet you have some questions about gambling at the airport. I know I did. So let’s tackle the big ones, shall we?

Airport Slot Machines

Airport Slot Machines

Where can I find slot machines at McCarran International Airport?

There are approximately 1,300 slot machines at McCarran, in baggage claim, the shopping areas, in terminals near gates—even in the car rental center. Trust me, you can’t miss them.

Has anyone ever actually won playing slots at the airport?

Shockingly, yes. According to Chris Jones, Acting Manager of Public Affairs and Marketing at McCarran, two players at McCarran won $392,000 and $259,000 respectively within four days of each other in May 2008. One lucky traveler won $3.9 million at a progressive Wheel of Fortune machine in January 2005. I’ve also seen many reports on TripAdvisor’s Vegas forum from people who won enough money at the airport to make them happy. Personally, I’ve never won anything on the machines at the airport. Then again, I don’t usually win in the casinos, either.

Does that mean the slots are looser at the airport?

Er, no. Conventional wisdom has long held that you should avoid playing slots at the airport because the payout is lower than average. (Although given how tight the machines have become on the Strip in recent years, I don’t see much of a difference any more.) As with playing all slot machines, you should be prepared to lose, because you probably will. Gambling should be a form of entertainment, like going to the movies. It’s just a fun way to kill time. . .with a (very) slight chance of winning back some of your money.

Airport Slot Machines

Airport Slot Machines

How do I get paid if I win or want to cash out?

As is the standard with most casinos these days, the slot machines at McCarran Airport feature TITO (or Ticket In, Ticket Out), meaning when you cash out, you get a ticket. There are no bill breaker machines here to exchange your ticket for cash, so you’ll have to look for the uniformed attendant to make the exchange. There is one stationed at or near all slot locations.

Do I have to fill out an IRS form if I win over $1,000, like at the casinos?

Sadly, yes. Uncle Sam always wants his cut.

How long does it take to get paid? Will I miss my flight?

This probably depends on how close you’re cutting your play to when your flight boards. There are ticket attendants on hand to pay you your winnings. If you win a couple of hundred bucks, they can probably pay you quickly with the money they have on hand. But if you win a big jackpot—say a couple hundred thousand or a million—they won’t have that money on hand. So it will take longer to get paid, and yes, you may miss your flight. But if you won that much money, really, would you care???

How do you feel about playing the slots at McCarran? Would you do it to entertain yourself while waiting for your flight, or do you think it’s a sucker’s bet? Have you ever played there–and won?

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