Gambling set for takeoff on airlines

July 14, 1996|By Jerry Ackerman | Jerry Ackerman,BOSTON GLOBE

In-flight video gambling -- keno, lotto, bingo and more -- makes its debut this fall, and at least five overseas airlines -- British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Swissair, British-based Debonair Airlines and tiny Oasis Airlines of Spain -- have signed up.

Federal law now bars gambling aboard domestic U.S. airline flights, as well as international flights that originate or end in the // United States. But several domestic and foreign carriers would like to see the law changed.

"The consumer marketplace is far more interested in gambling as entertainment than it was 10 years ago, and air travel consumers are demanding more entertainment of all kinds," said Trans World Airlines spokesman John McDonald. "We would want the ability to offer gaming for competitive reasons."

A Department of Transportation study sent to Congress last March reported 18 percent of American air travelers would take advantage of in-flight gaming if it were offered. The study estimated the average in-air gambler, using credit cards to place bets and to credit winnings, would put down between $55 and $75 during a flight lasting six to 10 hours.

The study suggested that with 6-to-5 odds in favor of the house -- about as good as it gets in Las Vegas -- adoption of in-flight gaming at home and abroad could boost airline revenues by $600 million a year or more.

United Airlines, TWA, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways and Qantas Airways International have all told the Department of Transportation they favor in-air gaming. Two unions, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Association of Flight Attendants, were among those opposed. Also raising doubts: The National Council on Problem Gambling, and the Nevada Resort Association, which asked how in-flight gambling would be kept honest.

Swissair said it will run its system under the watchful eye of the Swiss National Lottery. Swissair plans to install in-flight video gaming aboard 18 of its planes starting this fall. The units also will give passengers a range of in-flight movie choices and Cable News Network broadcasts.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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