MIAMI – Historically, land and ship-based casinos were your only option when it came to a spot of quality gambling action. But with the advent of online and digital entertainment, this is no longer the case. 

Thanks to the internet and mobile phones, these days you can gamble anywhere – your home, office (if you dare), a cab ride, the trains, or even on boats – as long as you have a 4G or WiFi network to connect to online casino sites.

Given that many flights nowadays offer WiFi, players do theoretically have the option to gamble online when flying! But a lot depends on factors like the airline, your destination, type of airplane, and duration of the flight. 

Add the often high cost of WiFi, possible connectivity drops, and the whole experience is far from ideal. A better option would be to have some form of casino gambling as part of the airline in-flight entertainment. 

Casinos as part of in-flight entertainment

Believe it or not, having some form of gambling options onboard an international flight is not a novel idea. It has been tried several times in the past, with limited success. In the early 1980s, Singapore Airlines trialed it by installing several slot machines on its long haul flights to San Francisco. 

But adding heavy hardware to flights is not a good idea, as carry weight comes at a premium. To compensate, the slot machines had to be lightweight, which had the unfortunate side-effect of making them fragile and prone to breakage, just hours into the initial flight. 

After the failure of the Singapore Airlines experiment, Swiss Air added gambling to its flight entertainment screens. But the system overheated and was found to be one of the causes of a deadly plane crash in 1998. Quite predictably, Swiss Air shut down this initiative. 

Since then, several attempts have been made to introduce gambling systems to airplanes, notably after the launch of massive planes like the Airbus A-380. But we are yet to see any of these plans reach the execution stage so far. 

In the past, hardware design challenges, weight considerations, and potential safety hazards played a key role in limiting the entry of casino gambling to the skies. But with gadgets getting smarter and smaller each day, this is no longer a concern. 

Why are airlines not keen on adding casino games?

The law is not kind to gambling in many parts of the world. The US may be home to the only two airports in the world where you can play slots – in Vegas and Reno. But Federal law prohibits all carriers from providing any kind of gambling action on flights in US airspace, and on all international flights by planes registered in the US. 

There is no doubt that this is one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of casinos in the air. But then again, there are countries where all forms of gambling are fully legalized – the UK and certain EU nations spring to mind. Why don’t airlines in these countries offer casino games?

It is easy to answer that one – because international laws related to both gambling and aviation are incredibly complex – which translates into “not cheap and potentially expensive.” If there is one thing airlines cannot accept, it is more uncertainty/risk. 

Airlines are a very fragile and unforgiving business, always struggling with bankruptcy. Planes are expensive to maintain and run, fuel costs increase all the time, insurance costs are high, and security is also a major headache. Unless the legal issues are simplified, airlines cannot afford to add gambling services to flights. 

The legal complications related to gambling in the sky

The laws of the air are incredibly complex. Finding which nation’s laws apply on a flight is a tough ask, often involving multiple factors like:

  • The country over which the craft is flying (during any incident)
  • The country where it is registered
  • The starting point and destination of the flight

When the safety of a flight is involved, the jurisdiction is always based on the location of the flight. If it is in US airspace when a hijack attempt is made, then US laws apply. But in other issues like gambling, things are not so clear. It can be better illustrated by using the example of in-flight alcohol. 

Gambling shares a few features with alcohol – both are addictive, both have some taboo associated with them in certain cultures, and are controlled, restricted, or outright banned in most countries of the world. Unlike gambling though, most airlines serve alcohol in at least some of their flights. 

Take conservative nations like Iran and other Islamic nations – consumption, and sale of alcohol is strictly prohibited in these countries. When a flight from a foreign airline is headed to Iran, they usually do one of the following:

  • Don’t serve any alcohol at all
  • Stop serving alcohol once the flight reaches Iranian airspace 

Unlike alcohol, gambling is banned or tightly regulated in more countries in the world, including even large nations like the United States and China. And flights have to cross multiple such jurisdictions in one journey – complying with many local laws would be very challenging indeed. 

Playing casino games when above regulated countries

Unless international laws related to gambling are substantially altered, airlines will not be able to add casino games to in-flight entertainment any time soon. Even in countries where gambling is legal, there still remains significant challenges. 

Nations like the UK, Ireland, Sweden, and Finland all allow online casino sites and the gambling industry is a key part of their economies. But that does not mean that playing casino games on a flight above these nations would be so easy. It’s also not the first time casinos have tried to offer gambling by any means possible.

One key issue that might pop up is related to underage gambling. It is strictly forbidden even in nations where gambling is legal. Service providers have to ensure that kids are not exposed to gambling content. Flights always have kids on board, making it even harder to comply with these laws. 

This does not mean that winning a jackpot in the sky is impossible. With the rise of improved technologies like 5G, we can expect internet access on flights to improve drastically in the coming years. Airlines may not be able to provide casinos on all flights, but you can certainly use the in-flight WiFi to play some amazing slots at online casinos.