Playing the Slots at the Airport – Yay or Nay?

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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?

30 thoughts on “Playing the Slots at the Airport – Yay or Nay?

  1. Hetz

    I’ll sit down and play VP or slots while waiting for my flight home. I’ve even won a few times which helped take the sting out of my loses during my stay. I agree about not taking the time to play upon arrival. However, if there was a Megabucks slot with a big jackpot staring at me I might drop a few dollars and play. Just imagine winning that jackpot at the start of a LV trip!

    1. Craig P.

      I understand that the Baltimore Airport is once again attempting to have slots. My understanding is that Baltimore would have more slot machines than the Las Vegas Airport. Withing time every airport will have slots.

      1. Gray Cargill Post author

        Oh, they won’t all have slots, Craig. Vermont,for instance, is extremely anti-casino. I don’t see that happening here. But I can see why other states might want to do that at their airports for extra revenue.

  2. Rob

    Pretty sure the conventional wisdom is right, the airport has no incentive to have “loose” slots. You are a captive audience. If you don’t like the slots at MGM, Tropicana is right across the street.

    I’m not much of a slot player anyway, and I almost always drive to Vegas, so it’s not an issue for me.

    That said, two other reasons to play slots in a casino instead McCarran:

    I’m pretty sure they don’t have scantily clad young women (or anyone else) offering you free drinks while you’re playing slots at the airport.

    If you play in any casino, you can use a Players Club Card and at least get some kind of casino “goodies” for your play. I don’t think you can eventually earn a free airline ticket by playing slots at McCarran.

    If you love the slots that much, stay in a casino as long as possible and bring a book or a magazine or a tablet PC or a cell phone for the airport.

  3. Gray

    Right you are, Rob–no free drinks while playing the slots at the airport (delivered by scantily clad women or anyone else for that matter). You can’t win a free airline ticket by playing there now, but man, would that be a great gimmick to get people to play or what?!

  4. dewey089

    I think it is foolish to play at the airport. No drinks, no comps, and certainly tighter machines. No decent VP tables.

    That being said, about five years ago I left Vegas after a solo trip, sick with an annoying cold. I stopped at a local grocery to buy some throat lozenges. I was not looking forward to 5 plus hours on the plane.

    After my purchase I had 80 cents. So, these grocery VP plays are terrible, but I lose all my change anyway. Why not lose it here?

    I could not lose.
    I cashed out at about seven dollars.

    Through security and waiting for my flight, my cold made me miserable.
    Okay, I said to my self, I deserve a bit of pleasure. I have this almost free seven dollars.

    So I played a poor paytable VP and it just was very nice to me. I cashed out at $80 and got the benefit of some entertainment and a nice lift to offset my cold.

  5. Keith B

    Never tried the machines in Vegas, but in 2010 up north in Reno I had some time to spend before my flight to LAX and then home to Australia. Put a 20 in to a machine and won $300.

    Payout was very quick, an attendant was close by and I had the money withing a few minutes.

  6. JoAnn

    I’ve played at the airport to have something to do while waiting for my flight. I’ve always limited my play just like I do at any casino.

  7. Gray

    You’ve never been to Vegas, rashmi? Damn, that’s a shame. I hope you get a chance to some day. It’s like no other city I know.

  8. Craig H

    I always have extra time before flights home to play the slots at McCarron for a little while. Since I almost always travel the red-eye home, there isn’t much else open at 11pm. I play as cautious as I would on The Strip or any other casino and probably break even or win about 1/2 the time. When I win, I make a quick trip to the Duty Free store since I live outside the US for an extra treat. 🙂

  9. Jay

    I do it sometimes, but not with any real hope of winning.

    Mostly, I am just getting rid of any leftover US bills. If I have only $20 left or so after lunch at the airport (yuck) and buying dutyfree, it’s fun to give it one last go.

    That said, my best friend won $1000 last year at the airport. She’s been back twice since and she never wins .. so it was like a pity win 🙂

  10. MarryAnnh

    Those are really awesome!I hope i can have the chance to visit it too…Thanks for the idea here then…

  11. Abby

    Loved this! I know it’s different because I live here, but I LOVE the slot machines. Not because I’ve ever played, but because I know I’m home when I land and hear their distinct bells. Nowhere else in the world! I’d always wondered if anyone ever won anything…

  12. Laurie

    Last June I won $1500.00 while waiting for my plane. The ladies were standing around watching and telling me as I was on my bonus that I was going to win the progressive and sure enough I hit!! Since they were watching it did not take them long to get the paperwork taken care of and cash in hand. Hope for repeat this June.

  13. Kelly G

    I always play the slots when leaving. However the machines at T2 were much better than T3….I like the “fun” interactive games! Betty Boop Fortune Teller a fav and would like to see those types of machines at airport and more penny slots, not quarters and nickels…of course if was on a winning streak might have to delay my flight. Last year I won $200 at airport, played for 2 hours on one machine (that is the true reason they want you there early) the last hour was the bonus spins….all 56 of them. Ended that trip with a smile. This year only had an hour as we were much smarter and only arrived an hour and a half early. Won $30.

    1. Gray

      Yay! You won at the airport! I hear ya on the penny slots, Kelly. I’d prefer more of those at the airport too. Quarters are a bit rich for my blood.

  14. gina holmes

    i have gambled at the airport more than once i won 800 one time and believe it not 1k on the quarter wof machine. In 2008 we flew to lv because we bought a house out there. My mother told me we needed the closing cost money approx. 1k i was upset because i just gave her 25k as a downpayment i was broke. I borrowed some money an as we were leaving i hit 1k on the quarter machine four time the attendant was baffled she said she never seen anything like it. So i am on the ositive and the plus side in the lv airport find good machine after someone ekse warmed it up and gl

  15. Martin

    Gambled once at Las Vegas airport when I got there. Spent $1.50 and got $5.00 so I was happy with that.

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