Many passengers take the chance on the slots at Reno-Tahoe International and Las Vegas’s McCarran International airports each year as they arrive and depart. The slot machines are a win-win for both airports, as they not only offer a unique passenger experience, but they bring in needed nonaeronautical revenue.
It’s a surprise, but slots didn’t land at Reno-Tahoe until 1993. The slot machines at the airport are run under a unique partnership with Las Vegas-based gaming company IGT plc. “IGT is the manufacturer of our slot machines and they also have a manufacturing plant here,” said Tina Iftiger, Reno’s vice president of airport economic development. “They actually own the gaming license and they are the operator of our machines.”
IGT partners with the airport in a major way, said Iftiger. “For example, when we went through our security checkpoint consolidation and adding new restaurants in 2013, IGT spent $900,000 to redo its gaming machines,” she said.
Part of that effort was bringing in more high-tech and quieter machines, said Iftiger. “So now if you come off your plane, you won’t hear `Wheel of Fortune,’ anymore. The sound is in the chair. It’s an amazing experience, but it’s quieter,” she said. “IGT uses us as a test bed before they send out new games to the casinos.”
Reno-Tahoe has 243 slot machines in three different locations, said Iftiger. “Our main lobby has 75, including 11 in bars. In our two concourses, one has 82 and the other has 86, so they’re spread across the facility,” she said. “Passengers can play Wheel of Fortune, Megabucks, Quartermania and video poker, said Iftiger. “Our newest game is Axxis, a 3D game that is a pretty amazing experience.” The airport has penny, nickel, quarter, dollar and $5 dollar slot machines, she added.
Dean Britt is the general manager of airport slots at McCarran airport. The airport’s slots go back to the 1940s, but the current ones have been run by Michael Gaughan Airport Slots since 1985. Gaughan owns the South Point Hotel and Casino and previously owned the NASCAR South Point Racing team.
McCarran currently has 1,416 slot machines, said Britt. “But this number fluctuates as we change out games and machine sizes,” he said.
Travelers have access to more than 260 game themes, including Multi-Game Poker, Reel Slots and Video Reels formats, said Britt. “Wheel of Fortune is the most popular game,” he said. The airport has one penny, two penny, nickel, quarter and dollar slots, he added.
The largest jackpot ever won at Reno-Tahoe airport happened in 2010, when someone won $10.4 million in a Megabucks machine, said spokesman Brian Kulpin, who witnessed the event. “A gentleman who was a newlywed came to Reno for a bowling tournament. When he got off the plane, he told his new wife, ‘I’m going to win,’” he recalled. “He played the slot machine four times and hit the jackpot. It was a great moment for him and it was really fun to watch.”
The largest jackpot ever won at McCarran airport was $3.9 million on a Wheel of Fortune slot machine in 2005, said Britt. “More recently, there was a $1.56 million jackpot in March 2015 and a $1.6 million jackpot in November 2016, both won on $1 Wheel of Fortune slots.”
Reno-Tahoe airport is a popular destination for locals, said Iftiger. “They think the odds are better here. They can park in the garage and gamble in the lobby,” she said. “We had to call IGT to look at their statistics and compare it to our passenger loads, but we estimate that between 125,000 and 175,000 people play our slots every year.
“In our last fiscal year, the airport slot machines brought in more than $1.1 million in revenue,” said Iftiger.
“As the slot concessionaire, we generated gross revenue of $35.2 million in [calendar year] 2015,” said Britt. “And $28.6 million of that was revenue for the airport.”
Slot machines are popular with travelers at both airports. “They love them. Passengers feel this is their last chance to hit the Big One before leaving Vegas,” said Britt.
Reno-Tahoe does quarterly passenger surveys about travelers’ experience at the airport, said Kulpin. “They like them because it gives them something to do. Because we’re an airport that’s close to the Bay Area, we are where airlines land as they wait for the fog to lift,” he said. “When they deplane and see gaming machines in the waiting area, they grab a drink, play and have a great time in what could be an unhappy experience.”