The Fate of In-flight Casinos is up in the Air

Soon the toilet may not be the only reason to get up from the seat on the plane.

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Any location that has lots of people confined to for a prolonged period of time, with not much to do but extra money to spend, is an ideal venue for gaming. Yet for some reason there is still no gambling on long haul flights.

Two French design studios, Designescence and AirJet Designs have set out to change this. They are proposing a luxury onboard bar and casino, complete with a blackjack table, to entertain passengers on extended flights.

No airline has committed to the idea just yet, and that may be due in part to bad past experiences. Such an establishment takes up lots of space; its operation requires extra resources and the electronic games may carry the risk of interfering with flight equipment. At least these were the reasons why previous attempts have always been abandoned by airlines.

There are also legal obstacles. Long distance flights are as international as you can get. They are subject to a whole set of laws in various jurisdictions, depending on the plane’s location at any given time.

Without going into too much legalese, gambling on an airplane may or may not be legal at various stages of the trip, determined by a.) the country in which the plane is registered, b.) the airspace, which it is flying through at any given time, c.) the country of destination, d.) the nationality of each prospective player, e.) the game being offered, and finally f.) whether it is online or onboard gambling.

For example, while French gambling laws may allow games by French-licensed operators on planes, US regulations explicitly prohibit gambling on flights headed to or flying over its territory.

Legal considerations aside, there is also the issue of technology and expenses. For one, airlines may explore wireless access to internet casinos instead of sacrificing passenger space and ticket revenues. The associated costs, however, are still beyond what would make such a move profitable.

Stephen McNamara, Ryanair’s head of communications had these frank words to say: “We don’t have the technology in place at the moment, but hopefully we will in the next two or three years. Really, the reason we don’t currently is based on the expense of the Wi-Fi technology that would be required for it. We’re waiting for the price to come down.”

Another issue related to technology is the possibility that passengers would simply opt to play online poker on their tried and tested sites, rather than sitting down for some onboard gambling. Airlines will of course make every effort not create in-house competition, so wireless access will likely be developed with these considerations in mind.

Since long distance flights can take up to 14-16 hours, there is still the realistic possibility for various online and onboard gambling to coexist, with passengers spending ample time – and money – on both. These details will likely be easier to hammer out than the international legal arrangements.

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