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Airport travelers could have more to bet on than whether their flight will be on time if a proposal by two gambling-industry lawyers takes off in Indianapolis.
Phil Sicuso and Joe Champion say Indianapolis International Airport is well suited for wireless gambling technology that could bring in revenue to support more nonstop flights.
Sicuso, a former general counsel for the Indiana Gaming Commission, suggests the airport could create lounges in which travelers over age 21 could play games on handheld devices that are connected to a central server. He said the setup wouldn’t compete with existing casinos because it would serve only travelers with tickets.
“That’s part of the reason we thought it was palatable,” he said. “It’s a completely new customer.”
Indianapolis Airport Authority President Mike Wells said the idea is “clever” but he doesn’t think it will fly.
Lawmakers have been reluctant to expand gambling even as new casinos in neighboring states are cutting into Indiana’s casino revenues. The General Assembly rejected proposals last year that would have moved riverboat casinos to land-based facilities and allowed live table games at two horse racing tracks.
Even if lawmakers were to consider adding gambling at the airport, Wells said the revenue would still have to flow to a state entity before it could be used to subsidize non-stop service to key locations.
Sicuso and Champion say it will take “millions” more in subsidies to increase nonstop service to Indianapolis International Airport.
It’s unclear whether airport gambling could bring in enough to make that possible.
Minnesota began offering electronic pull-tabs at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport in hopes of generating $3 million for a new Vikings football stadium. It was the first airport outside Nevada to offer gambling.
But the Minneapolis Star-Tribune found travelers spent less than $34,000 in the first six months of the year.
Chicago officials have discussed installing slot machines in the city’s airports for several years, but a Chicago Tribune analysis of gambling revenue at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas suggests airport gambling isn’t as lucrative as some people think.
McCarran’s 1,271 slots generated $25.6 million in 2010, or about $55 per machine per day, according to the Tribune. That was less than half the average of $118 per day generated by slots in Las Vegas casinos.
That doesn’t surprise Mike Smith, president of the Casino Association of Indiana. He questioned whether travelers would spend as much money as a traditional casino crowd.
“When I go, I want to go and have a good time with my wife and friends and enjoy the atmosphere,” he said. “I’m not sure you get that at an airport.”
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