Please Save Us From Slot Machines at Chicago Airports

What could be worse than a long delay at O’Hare? A long delay at O’Hare, set to the “Wheel of Fortune” theme music.

photo: schweitzephreniac / flickr

Hitting the slots during a flight delay. At O’Hare?

The Trib just surveyed Chicagoans about the possibility of having slot machines in the city’s airports. Right now Chicagoans have middling support for a Chicago casino (49-43), but slightly higher opposition to slot machines in the airports (43-51). Airport slots don’t bring in the kind of money that casino slots do, which makes sense, given that almost everyone at a casino is there to gamble and few people at an airport are. But in Las Vegas, the revenues have been a good small boost, $25.7 million in slot fees in 2010.

O’Hare is a bigger airport than McCarran (located on the wonderfully named Wayne Newton Boulevard), and the slots would be in Midway as well. But the barriers to gambling would be higher:

“If this does move forward, it will not be like Las Vegas where slots are visible as soon as you walk off a plane,” said Sarah Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the mayor. “Any slot machines would be in a secured, separate area similar to a private airline club — where individuals can access, but they are not readily visible to people traveling through the airport.”

The current version of the gambling expansion bill requires the slots to be located beyond security checkpoints and available only to airline passengers who are at least 21 and “members of a private club.”

This leads Steve Rhodes to ask: “Isn’t being readily visible to people traveling through the airport the whole point? Otherwise you might as well put slots in Arby’s.”

I used to fly through McCarran a few times a year for school. And I think I understand why Chicagoans are opposed to putting slots in O’Hare. At first the slots seem like a perfectly nice way to kill some time or at least add some zany Vegas color. But all that changes the first time you get stranded there. Within a few minutes they get your attention. Within a few hours they destroy it.

It was after midnight on a Tuesday in September. Our plane from New York (not-so-lucky TWA Flight 777) had left two hours late, and it took 30 minutes for the luggage to arrive. Meanwhile, right there in the baggage claim area, quarter slot machines were binging and bonging – sounds that do insidious things to the nervous system.

Unless you find chiptune music soothing, you’ll be begging for them to cram the slot machines in Arby’s. McCarran has 1,300-1,600 slot machines lining the gates; they’re inescapable (and to make a non-trivial logistical point, they have to be monitored so that the youth won’t gamble away their inheritance). They make Nancy Grace yelling about murderers sound like Music for Airports. This is about right:

So you better hope that the slots get their own private club. Otherwise bring headphones, or maybe a sledgehammer—if you can get it through TSA.

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